Using Peaceful Times to Grow

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4) 

Consider a time of crisis or significant change in your life. How did (or do) you spend your time? Were you consumed with organizing details, contacting people for help, finding a plumber, an electrician, or a builder, hiring health workers, doing pre-op medical appointments, looking for rehab services, trying to figure out why your child is failing in school or not talking to you, working on your marriage, or getting an animal to a vet quickly? These things all could threaten our security; they either hinder our relationship with God or strengthen it. But peace is meant to strengthen the peace and security we have with Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah gives us an example to follow in life, to think first of God and then think of everything in relationship to him. In Isaiah 1-2, we have a hint about God’s complaint against his people: they have been treated as the most privileged with all the advantages of royal descendants, yet they have forsaken God and “they have despised the Holy One of Israel” (1:4). After punishing Israel for their apostasy and accepting their repentance stimulated by the prophets who proclaimed his love for them, the Lord will give them peace and return them to their land.* But Israel did not use her external order well, and we are guilty of the same. We squander God’s provision of quietness in our lives frequently. I wonder if we just don’t know what to do with it. 

Paul wrote to Timothy, about two thousand years ago, to pray for the leaders and to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:2-4) Here we have an implied connection between a quiet, peaceful life and godliness with dignity, along with salvation in Christ. Now, Paul probably means that the character or temperament of a person who is dignified and godly will be peaceful, even in the midst of intense activity. Perhaps this was in contrast to the false teachers in the church, who were stirring up controversies. I think it’s reasonable, though, to make the application that a quiet life stimulates meditation, reflection, and prayer. One of the reasons I choose to write is the positive effect of the quiet around me, that helps me to turn down the noise of the world and ramp up thoughts of God and his work in my relationships, activities, and circumstances. When TV and music are off, no one is calling me, I can think—even if I am exercising or swimming—I can think. 

Paul wrote to the Philippians to think about particular things, which would help them draw near to the Lord of peace. “…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) I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to think at all in a store, with the TV going, or even in the middle of a conversation, let alone with the quality of thought Paul has described in this passage. Rather, I am like the droopy flowers in my garden right now that are waterlogged from too many days of rain and not enough sun. Over-stimulation wearies me and makes me want to do nothing—just zone out in front of the TV, a good book, or Prime Video. Then there are the crises that drain us entirely of our ability to think appropriately.

Physical or emotional danger or threats to our security will have us running around, figuratively or literally, to fix the problem or find a way out of trouble. I imagine this may be what Ezekiel was referring to in his prophecy of chapter 34, during Israel’s tumultuous exile. God will “banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.” He would cause the earth to “yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them.” The Lord would rescue them from danger, to “dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid…And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 34:25-31) The last two verses speak to the purpose of the external peace God will provide—to know him as their God, their Shepherd who cares for them. God will break their yoke, reminding us that Christ has broken our yoke to sin; we are free to enjoy his external and internal peace. He has done it so that all will know him. We are sheep, though, who like extremes, and too much quiet and lack of stimulation might have the opposite effect of drying up our thoughts, like writer’s block. We become blasé and blind to what the Lord is doing because we have withdrawn. Rather than consider this a peaceful time, it becomes boring and restrictive; we act like patients in the hospital who can’t get out to enjoy a spring day or a meal in a restaurant with friends, not to mention doing any meaningful work or ministry. 

Having devoted our lives to Christ means interacting with the world, but not to the extent that we become saturated with the world’s values or priorities. The gospel turns worldly thinking upside down. Recalling Paul’s admonition to the Philippian Christians, what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise is not the newest fashion, the latest version of the iPhone, or the most recent inside scoop on Washington politics. The things and people that strengthen our faith, that make it possible to help others practically and who encourage us to grow spiritually will satisfy these criteria. We can share about a TV show if it sharpens our discernment, or talk about the song lyrics of a new hit if they help us to appreciate God’s providence and Christ’s wisdom. As a matter of fact, I recently heard a song on the radio while driving by Meredith Andrews, titled “Soar.” The words helped me to think about this piece. “Here I remind myself what You said over me, Here I remind my soul who You are. You said You won’t relent Won’t let go, won’t forget, Every promise You have whispered to my heart. As I wait, As I wait on You I’m gonna run and not grow weary, I’m gonna walk and not grow faint,  Rise up on wings like eagles, To soar.”

Are you missing quiet times by always having something stimulating your senses? Are you over-working? Do you have too much quiet that is disturbing and not peaceful? How might you have and use your peace to draw close to the Lord more deliberately and effectively? How can you soar spiritually with Christ?

* ESV Study Bible Notes, Intro to Isaiah, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

May 8, 2019  

Peace in the Midst of Confusion and Disappointment

Do you care for aging parents, grandparents, or siblings? One of the things I appreciate about God’s providence for me, far away from my family (who are all healthier than I am, at this time), is being surrounded by people who are older than me and who need TLC. Over the last year, my understanding and appreciation of physical weakness has increased dramatically through my two surgeries. Now I realize, in a new way, how physical pain or weakness dramatically changes our perspective and our ability to see beyond it, which is essential for the best quality of life. Many seniors withdraw because it is just too complicated and beyond their ability to reach out to others; therefore, they need others to reach out to them. If you had asked me about how to connect with the elderly who are chronically affected by illness or pain several years ago, I might have had some advice, but it would not be informed opinion based on understanding. Job’s friends advised Job about God based on their limited knowledge of suffering and pain. Their advice wasn’t all wrong; it just wasn’t well-informed. Perhaps they had never been confronted by this situation before, where someone was suffering mysteriously, with a dramatic onset, affecting his entire life and family, by an unknown cause. There were no natural catastrophes, no tornados or earthquakes; there was no plague. Only Job’s household and Job were affected. So they naturally assumed that Job had done something to deserve God’s dramatic discipline—something you and I probably never consider. Kudos to them for connecting the sudden change in Job’s life to something about God. But perhaps they should have focused more on God’s sovereign right to do what he chooses instead of insisting on a formula of confession + repentance = blessing. In the end, the Lord argues his sovereign case as the Creator and Ruler (Job 38-41). That’s what brings Job to repentance of his  questioning of God, and leads to blessing and peace.  

Eliphaz wasn’t wrong about the way the Lord disciplines us when he preached to Job at the beginning of his speech. “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal. He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you. In famine he will redeem you from death, and in war from the power of the sword. You shall be hidden from the lash of the tongue, and shall not fear destruction when it comes. At destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth. For you shall be in league with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you.” (Job 5:17-23) Eliphaz wasn’t wrong—God does reprove those he loves, and after the reproof and repentance comes peace, rather than anxiety in all aspects of life.  On a more personal level, Eliphaz’s implication that Job was suffering because of some sin on his part is entirely off-base. He isn’t wrong that Job needed reproof—we all do because every aspect of our being is corrupted by sin and needs to be transformed by the gospel. But Eliphaz is wrong that Job is suffering because he hasn’t repented. And isn’t it ironic that Eliphaz says Job will be delivered from the lash of the tongue—like his? 

Today I have a few takeaways from Job 5:17-23, in the context of Job’s suffering and need for comfort. One is that we are all in need of comfort for something and our friends are the likely ones to share God’s comfort with us, but with limited understanding of our situations. I don’t share my inner-most struggles with very many people, and some, not at all. So how can I expect others to empathize? So, when my friends or family try to help me, I should be gracious to accept their best comfort, rather than complain about their limitations, no matter how much pain I am in at the time. 

Secondly, my peace doesn’t come without some submission and humility on my part, in light of God’s authoritative, good sovereignty in all matters. The rulership, control, and power of God are not overbearing to those who are in Christ. Instead, we rejoice and delight to know that the best One to rule over the world is, in fact, on the throne, watchful, purposeful, and actively ordaining that which will yield salvation for the most people. Peace with God comes with my realization that he who rules has already lovingly and mercifully accepted me in Christ, for all eternity. Of course, the more I rest in Christ’s love and acceptance of me, the more peace I will have with others, and the less I will try to comfort myself with the things of this world (through food, entertainment, shopping, drugs, alcohol, etc.). Peace in Christ—being bought by him, to live for him—rescues me from my dread, evil, death, war, the lash of the tongue, destruction, and famine (or the temptations of abundance, in our case, here in America and the developed world). Circumstances and situations lose their power to overcome my security and don’t shake me up. 

Unfortunately, we, like Job are completely undone when our closest friends think the worst of us. Job wanted to die because of the useless comfort from his friends, and the oppressiveness of his circumstances. “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Shall windy words have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you and shake my head at you.” (Job 16:2-5) Surely Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were doing their best in an impossible situation—or were they trying to prove their wisdom, feeling superior because they weren’t suffering? I tend toward the first. And who can blame Job for his cries to be vindicated or die when he has no basis for understanding what is happening to him? Well, Job’s friends blame him, don’t they? God never calls Job to the mat for his pain or speaking his mind; the Lord only insists that he recognize God’s superiority over him and not be quite so sure of his innocence based on his self-righteousness. I admire Job’s honesty as he speaks his pain to the Lord, wholly overcome by his physical, emotional, and mental suffering, as if the Lord shot him with poisoned arrows, for which there is no antidote. (Job 6:4) 

Here is one of three helps in our suffering: speak honestly to the God who loves you, who knows your mind and heart, and who wants you to turn to him with your pain. I imagine that this was Job’s main source of relief, to get through his long days of confusion and disappointment. Others can’t comfort us with understanding, because they don’t know anything more than we do about our pain—they “why” of our suffering. However, having a Savior who endured even more than we have, who is with us as we struggle to get through one day at a time will strengthen our souls and therefore, our resolve to endure. Job asked that God would remove his rod from him; and Christ has done so—he has taken the rod of God’s wrath on our behalf if we are his. (Job 9:34; 21:9) We have his comfort and the Holy Spirit’s comfort which may have been given to Job for a time. “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.” (Job 19:25-26) 

Having Christ is our greatest help and peace in our suffering. “He dwells by faith in Christ, who is his peace, his peace maker, and peace giver; and in whom he has peace amidst all the tribulation he meets with in the world; the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keeps and guards him in Christ, as in a garrison, safe and secure; and he enjoys much peace, as the fruit of the Spirit…” * What do believers need when they are at the end of themselves? We need Christ, who is not only the one who died for us but also the one who lives to receive us into his presence, and in the meantime, intercedes for us with our heavenly Father, and gives us the Holy Spirit who works in us to keep us close to Christ. For our part, when we can do nothing else, we yield. We submit to the power and work of God trusting in him who wants us under his wing. “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Psalms 63:5-8)

Speaking our pain to the Lord and putting our trust in Christ, submitting to his perfect authority and wise, sovereign rulership results in peace and thanksgiving. Here is a third help—thanksgiving for God’s sovereignty leads us to redirect our thoughts with renewed faith in God. Soul peace is a result of God’s work in us, not a result of our work in ourselves. Look to James 1:12: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

* Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Job 5:24,  https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/job-5.htmlMay 2, 2019    

God’s Peace Follows Submission to Him

In December 2016 I began a journal based on a word study of “peace” in the Bible, to help with my transition to retirement from mission work. Whenever I moved from one country to another in Africa or went on missionary leave, I would begin a Bible study to carry me through the entire time. So, if I would be on furlough for six weeks, I started a Bible study a week or two before, that would last for at least nine or ten weeks until I finished my journey or move. Of all the methods I developed for moving or changing jobs, this one has helped me the most. So, in 2016, as a means to encourage my peacefulness as I transitioned to retirement from full-time work of forty-four years, I began to study biblical peace. That study has led me to desire true “shalom,” godly well-being, which is only possible through submission to Jesus Christ, continually. 

Surely, it’s not a coincidence that I have remembered this as I begin a new women’s Bible study with the residents of my retirement community next week. My “brain memory” is like muscle memory, seeking God’s peace to begin something new. The hymn I have chosen for the first meeting also reminds me of the peace we have when we submit to the Lord to begin a new kind of ministry, vocation, or service for him, “I Need Thee Every Hour.” But it’s not just when things are unknown to us, or when we are stretched that we need God’s peace. It’s every hour of every day. “I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord; No tender voice like Thine can peace afford…I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby; Temptations lose their power when Thou are night.” I wonder what would happen if we would sing this hymn whenever we are tempted to procrastinate or shrink back from something we are asked to do in our vocation, ministry, or for our families, out of fear of the unknown. We are inclined to stay comfortable, protect our “me time” and do what is convenient or pleasing. For most of us, that kicks in before we even pray about doing something new or unexpected. But when we are united in Christ, nothing brings us more peace than his commands and the reminders of his presence with us. 

We must deal with our sin and our reluctance to seek the Lord’s will before we can experience his peace. In Psalm 32, titled “Blessed are the Forgiven,” David’s prayer to the Lord recounts his confession in the beginning, including this admission: “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (v. 2) Here is a warning for me about deceiving myself when I think I am obeying God’s will but am finding creative ways to avoid the most important thing he wants me to do. David also describes the opportunity we have to approach God in prayer, finding our refuge in him. So the progression seems to be that, having confessed my sin to the Lord, and rejecting that which is deceitful or false, I ask God for his protection and comfort because I know him to be gracious and merciful. This is often how my prayers go—confession, thanksgiving for God’s grace, then supplication. At this point, in verses 8 and 9, the speaker changes to the Lord, who says,  “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” God has a plan for each of our lives. He wants us to seek his counsel and instruction, rather than stubbornly seek our own advice or opinions. Even after confessing our sins, we only fool ourselves and lose out on peace when we think we know what to do without seeking God’s help. Our mule-like obstinacy shows up when we hurriedly and without thought disagree with our supervisors or authorities, are quick to argue with our grown children, rush out to purchase something fun and distracting, turn to food for comfort, or complain about the way our leaders rule, without praying for them. We know how we avoid the Lord’s guidance by looking back with hindsight on those days or nights when we filled our time with “other stuff” or diversions. But the way to peace is found by confronting our errors and listening carefully to God’s Word, with the help of his Spirit.

“Verse 8 [of Psalm 32]…is written as if God is speaking directly to the restored individual, promising to ‘instruct,’ ‘teach,’ ‘counsel,’ and ‘watch over’ him…the true meaning seems to be that God will continually watch over us. The idea is of one who is offering direction to another so he can follow a certain path and reach a certain place. This one promises as well to keep an eye on him as he travels so he will not get lost and go wrong. I am glad God promises to do that for us. For great as forgiveness is, the one who has sinned and been forgiven does not want to repeat the sin or again fall into error but rather wants to go on walking in the right way and so please our heavenly Father. How are we to do that unless God continues to keep his eye on us? If we ignore that care and refuse that counsel, we will be like brute beasts that have no understanding (v. 9). If we persist in our folly, we will be like the wicked who experience many woes (v. 10). But if we listen to God, obey him, and so walk in his right way, we will be able to rejoice in God. And we will be able to teach others also, which is what David has been doing in the psalm.” (1)

At another time (probably), David sought to bring the ark of God to Jerusalem with thirty thousand men, after he and his arm routed the Philistines (2 Samuel 5:22-6:4). David and his men were enthusiastic to  retrieve the ark, the most holy possession in history at that time, symbolizing the presence of God, carrying the carved stones with the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s staff, and the mercy seat. Having the ark in Jerusalem meant having God with them. But they either forgot how the Kohathites were to carry the ark or chose to use their own method of transport. God had warned his people specifically against touching the holy ark, “When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.” (Numbers 4:15) Many casual readers of Scripture are offended when they read that the Lord struck down Uzzah, who tried to stead the ark and keep it from falling. Consider, though, that they violated God’s command in their enthusiasm. How many times do we get great ideas for ministry or “helping” others that go wrong, only to realize later that we were “doing our own thing” without God’s guidance or help? Now, there are some delightful things the Lord calls us to do and living the Christian life includes many regular activities, including church attendance for worship and service, Bible studies with our families, Sunday School classes, providing for our families, prayer, etc. But we might want to consider how we go about doing those things—what is in our hearts and minds; what is our motivation and attitude? David stepped back for three months after Uzzah’s death, afraid to do anything with the ark at that time. Then “it was told to David” that Obed-edom household had been greatly blessed (2 Samuel 6:11-12) John Gill writes, “[David] being animated and encouraged by the blessing of God on the house of Obed-edom, because of it, and thereby freed from those slavish fears he was before possessed of, and filled with hopes of being blessed also on account of it; if not with temporal blessings, he needed not, yet with spiritual ones.” (2) 

The peace I experience with God after writing my blog post, calling a friend who is down, meeting someone for our encouragement, fulfilling my volunteer service commitment, or serving at a worship service is spiritual and calming. Changing my plans because someone has a need that is greater than my need for predictability is pleasantly satisfying. I have found that when I have an attitude of quiet submission to the Lord, he often changes either my plans or my perspective on them, to have a long-range outlook. Eternity is the ultimate peaceful place, so when I am focused on forever, my peace increases. God is offering us shalom if we will follow him. “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalms 32:11)

(1) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 32, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 2 Samuel 6:12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2samuel-6.html

April 25, 2019

Peace in Our Risen Shepherd

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

Easter, like Christmas, can quickly become superficial and automatic. This year, Lent devotions, a Christian Passover Seder, and sermons on Jesus’s resurrection are helping me to consider more profoundly Christ’s great sacrifice and His victorious defeat of sin and death. Paul’s benedictions such as the one above remind us that God’s peace is acquired through the blood of Jesus, “the eternal covenant,”  that equips us for our Christian lives. But rather than meditate on Christ’s work we often turn these great biblical indicatives (truths) into imperatives (commands). There are no commands in Hebrews 13:20-21. What we have here are glorious truths: (1) God the Father is the “God of peace;” (2) the Father raised Jesus Christ, His Son, from the dead; (3) Christ is our great Shepherd, and we are His sheep; (4) the eternal covenant of grace comes through Jesus’s blood in His substitutionary atonement for us on the cross; (5) God equips us with everything good to do His will; (6) God works in us, through Christ [and the Holy Spirit whom He gives us] for His pleasure; (7) all of this is for the eternal glory of God; and (8) if we are believers we agree with Paul, being absolutely sure of this (“Amen”).   

Which of these truths plays a major role in your Christian life? Which do you struggle with, for absolute certainty in your heart? When you hear about global politics and conflicts, do you doubt that our God of Peace is the one who sovereignly reigns? God the Father is the “God of peace. “…until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high…Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.” (Isaiah 32:15-18) See also: Psalm 10:12-11:7; Psalm 46; Luke 26:46-47; Matthew 24:29-31.

The Father raised Jesus Christ, His Son, from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is as important, if not more important than His atoning death on the cross. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19) “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20-21) See also Luke 9:22; Romans 8:31-39; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 3:1-3.

As you go about your life, do you act more like a dependent sheep or a stubborn goat? Is it hard to trust Jesus to be your Shepherd, who provides, protects, and guides you to green pastures? Christ is our great Shepherd, and we are His sheep. In Him we have more than this world, we have abundant life in His places, designed for us. “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:7-11) See also: Psalm 23:2; Joel 2:21-29. 

Some of us are planners, others not so much. But God is a planner, and from the beginning He made an eternal covenant of grace that came through Jesus’s blood in His substitutionary atonement for us on the cross. God agreed with Himself to save us far before we knew we were lost in the chaos of this world, our sin, and Satan’s grasp. In spite of all our mishaps and sinful failings, we can be assured of God’s covenant because it’s not dependent upon us and we know that He is perfectly faithful. “‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10) See also Jeremiah 31:33-34; John 1:12; Titus 1:2-3; Hebrews 8:8-12.

When you and I wake up in the morning, we usually think of the children waiting to be dressed and fed, the crying baby that needs a diaper change, or the things on our schedule for the day. Our minds get wrapped around these activities even before we can consult Scripture in our quiet times. So we are already biased against the will of God, being occupied with what we will do, even if our thoughts are about our ministry, writing, or service. I need at least an hour with the Lord every morning, to change my thinking from the first few moments of waking life. Fortunately, God equips us with everything good to do His will, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) See also Isaiah 45:4-6; 1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:9-14.

Most of us seek pleasure in a variety of ways: sports, culture, fellowship, parties, TV, music, or videos are just a few of them. God works in us, through Christ [and the Holy Spirit whom He gives us] for His pleasure and eternal glory. The Lord is gracious to share His pleasure with us; when we are united with Him in Christ, we delight in the things and ways of God as a side benefit to His glory. Christ lived as a man, died as our Messiah, and was raised to be our Great Priest and King for His entire kingdom. He relishes redemption of His people for inclusion in the kingdom. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). See also John 17:1-11; Galatians 1:3-5; 1 Peter 5:10; Revelation 14:6.

Do you say “Amen!” to these truths? We all need someone bigger and stronger and greater than us. Hope in the world will be crushed (like a cathedral devoured by fire); hope in people will be disappointed and hope in ourselves, especially, is hardly reassuring when we can’t even do what we set out to do in one day or one week. If we are believers, we agree with Paul, being sure of this. “Regeneration…is a radical change of the governing disposition of the soul, which, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, gives birth to a life that moves in a Godward direction. In principle this change affects the whole man: the intellect…the will…and the feelings or emotions.”* “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:20-22) See also 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 10:23. 

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

Blessed Easter!

* Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology (page 468), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993 

Responding Peacefully

Have you been unintentionally insulted or neglected lately? Has someone forgotten your birthday? Has a friend reminded you of something that you did a long time ago when you were a different person? If you are alive, we imperfect people in your life are doing and saying hurtful things, but not usually because we want to disappoint or insult you. Sometimes we’re in emotional pain and unable to think clearly, or in physical pain that is all-consuming. We may be tied up with anxiety over a work project. Financial challenges, elderly parents in decline, and teenagers who are running amuck may be taking all our mental and emotional coping energy. You can’t control our words or actions, but you can manage your responses (and seek God’s help when you’re the one who is unkind or neglectful). Jacob, renamed Israel by the Lord, had the problem of biased love and hurt at least ten of his sons by his greater affection for one, Joseph. However, Joseph’s brothers responded to their father’s prejudice with anger and envy. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” (Genesis 37:3-4) As a result of their jealousy and hurt, the brothers were unable to be reasonable with Joseph, according to the passage. They took revenge on him and their father by stripping Joseph of his robe, throwing him into a well, selling him off to Egyptian traders, faking his blood on the robe, and presenting it to their father who was distraught at the thought of losing his beloved son (Genesis 37:25-35). The robe that Jacob made for Joseph, as a token of his love, became a symbol of his sons’ hostility. But Joseph, when meeting up with his brothers much later in life, as the prime minister of Egypt, offered them hospitality and forgiveness. Joseph’s life yielded great fruit for his family and the nation of Israel. 

The trials that Joseph endured—his brothers’ hatred, being sold and living as a slave in an Egyptian’s home, being unjustly accused of adultery, and imprisonment—were all part of God’s discipline for him. These hard experiences appear to have had a remarkable impact on Jacob’s eleventh son, who was able to respond to his brothers in peace in Egypt during the famine. Hebrews 12:11 states that “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Joseph’s peaceful fruit of righteousness is captured, in particular, in Genesis 43:30, “Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there.” And, again in  Genesis 50:19-21 “Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Joseph’s merciful and gracious forgiveness points to the truth of 1 Peter 1:6-7 “…though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He was the bridge between the patriarchs and Moses, whom God used to establish his nation, pointing to the Christ, our eternal King over the kingdom of God. 

None of us enjoys difficulties, afflictions, or trouble—that would be crazy. But just because we don’t like the idea of things going south for us doesn’t mean that those times are worthless. If God had not taken Joseph through his fire of refinement, would he have been able to offer his brothers so much grace? You and I know many young Christians who have yet to be tested by God and therefore may be unable to respond peacefully to difficult people or circumstances. We don’t expect a car to be safe if it’s never been through safety tests by the manufacturer. We wouldn’t think that medicines are okay if they haven’t been tested in many ways by many people before being approved by the FDA. So why should we expect someone to respond well when they have never been tested? Why do you think you can respond with grace if you’ve never been challenged? 

The apostle Paul was challenged by many believers and unbelievers in many ways, many times. Yet he still prayed for the Lord to take away his “thorn,” trusting in God’s grace to help him with a mysterious hindrance to his ministry. But the Lord did not take his problem away; instead, he reminded Paul that it was God’s power that was in play in his difficult circumstances. “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9a) And how did Paul respond? He said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (vs. 9b-10) Paul responded with the gospel, that calls that the weary and weak depend on Christ. Matthew Henry says this about Hebrews 12:11, “God’s correction is not condemnation; the chastening may be born with patience, and greatly promote holiness. Let us then learn to consider the afflictions brought on us by the malice of men, as corrections sent by our wise and gracious Father, for our spiritual good.” (1)

In a recent Sunday School class on the gospel, our pastor taught us that gospel-centered relationships reflect the grace of God in our love, hospitality, and forgiveness for each other. We love others because God first loves us. We invite others to our tables because God has invited us to his. And we forgive others because we recognize and remember how much we have been forgiven by God. (2) How do your responses to certain types of people reflect your need for more gospel-speak, prayer, and perhaps Bible study for yourself? To whom do you need to respond more graciously and peacefully, with the gospel? As Easter approaches, how will you celebrate the forgiveness we have in our risen Savior, Jesus Christ?

(1) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Hebrews 12:11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/proverbs-30.htm

(2)Gospel 101, taught by Pastors Allan Taha and Kevin Witten, Trinity Presbyterian Church, www.trinityboerne.org  (The class notes are not on the website, but  information about our church is there.)

April 10, 2019

Peace for Today and Tomorrow

It is highly likely that I need this blog more than anyone else. Research about the positive benefits of writing to learn—of note-taking to study—reveals that our recall increases by involving not just the head but also the hands and in the learning process. And biblical devotions must also involve our hearts. However, the Lord calls us to learn together in community, not independently or by isolating ourselves. So, I write in spite of my lack of peacefulness this week, knowing that the God of peace is at work and He is not dependent upon my feelings. I am once again concerned about my knee that feels mechanical just when I am about to re-insert myself in all normal activities. Why doesn’t my joint feel more natural? Spiritually, I am asking myself and you, “Why doesn’t the peace of God, that Christ purchased for me by his grace, come to the forefront in spite of our health, financial, or family concerns? Is it wrong for our faith to sometimes feel ‘mechanical?’” There must be times when we obey and move forward in faith in God’s promises even though our present reality is not at all pleasant or spiritually miraculous. Life in Christ isn’t about good upon good upon good; it is the peace of God in the midst of a troubled, broken, twisted world. Christ reigns with his power and righteousness, “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” (Isaiah 32:17)

I often seek God’s peace through prayer, which is fine, and especially if I verbalize this request. But then I need to be careful not to pray as a technique for obtaining God’s peace, neglecting His praise, thanksgiving, confession, and petition for others. Hopefully, the result of my prayer is a desire to find my peace in God’s glory, which takes me to particular favorite scriptures passages like Isaiah 32:17. I am inspired to be more confident in God’s remedy for my anxiety and fears knowing that Isaiah wrote this verse about Jesus and his righteousness hundreds of years before Christ’s incarnation. God, our Father, had a plan for our supernatural peace through his holiness. Being undone by God’s purity and perfection, as the prophet was, leads to great adventures with him. (See Isaiah 6:1-5.) Just as God had a plan for Isaiah, involving a lump of hot coal to his unholy lips, he had a plan for us—through Christ and the Holy Spirit, by his grace in repentance and regeneration. It is through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness that we have peace withGod, throughhim, and forhim. Christ who has taken my sins upon himself and forgiven us, and the Holy Spirit who works in us to help us stay in the will of God as we live our lives. This peace is only found through Christ; it is not available anywhere else or by any other means. But this is the work of righteousness—to draw my heart to him so effectively for my conviction that my peace is also forGod, not for myself only, but for the upbuilding of others and the glory of God in all things. 

You and I know that we will never find peace by being knowledgeable about current affairs and the news, by our profits in the stock market, or by being fashionable, trendy, or technologically skilled. Unfortunately, many people, especially the young discount peace in favor of excitement, looking for the next thing that will make them happy. Trading happiness and excitement for peace means trading short-term glory and pleasure for long-term success and permanent joy. I know because I made this trade for the first thirty-three years of my life and was empty after earning two degrees, making great profits in real estate, and having had four good career positions. I was flat-out done-in by my attempts at self-fulfillment, but still seeking it through a new age seminar when Christ captured my heart with his righteousness, peace, and quietness. The four career positions that I held after my call to faith were leading me somewhere—to the mission field in Africa. “Mark the blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for the man of peace. But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalms 37:37-38) I was cut off from God and didn’t know it until he rescued me. But in Christ, instead of looking for my own path for my own pleasure, my excitement became grounded in God’s will and pleasure for me. His peace has given me the courage to do things I could never before have imagined or desired.

Reflecting on the effectiveness of God’s peace for His glory is one way to be re-inspired and re-committed to heavenly wisdom. So we need to remind ourselves of this, as did the Christians reading James’s letter, who were being influenced by those who were causing some disorder and disunity.  “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17) The progression of divine wisdom’s character is that of God: pure, and from purity, peaceful, gentle, reasonable, merciful, fruitful, impartial and sincere, yielding more righteousness. This is not just a list of what we should know about wisdom but a description of the wisdom that is already implanted in us and stimulated by the Holy Spirit indwelling us. Our daily life—our choices, thoughts, attitudes, behavior, and desires today have the ability, by God’s power, to reflect these attributes. “’Peaceable’—this is authentic peace, free of quarrelsome attitude; ‘gentle’—thoughtful and respectful of other people’s feelings; ‘open to reason’—willing to listen to and obey others; ‘full of mercy’—the wise person is not stingy in mercy but demonstrates charity in broad measure; ‘good fruits’—those who partake of God’s true ‘wisdom from above’ will bear ‘good fruits’ because they have been brought forth (regenerated) as ‘firstfruits’ of the beginning new creation (1:18); and ‘impartial and sincere’—the wise person is fair and without deception, deceit, or fraud.” (1) In the words of Matthew Henry, “He who thinks well, or he who talks well, is not wise in the sense of the Scripture, if he does not live and act well…It has no disguise or deceit. It cannot fall in with those managements the world counts wise, which are crafty and guileful; but it is sincere, and open, and steady, and uniform, and consistent with itself. May the purity, peace, gentleness, teachableness, and mercy shown in all our actions, and the fruits of righteousness abounding in our lives, prove that God has bestowed upon us this excellent gift.” (2)

Are you as convinced as I am, that we already have peace, for the sake of and through God’s righteousness? Fears, anxieties, and regrets for the future, present, or past are covered by the peace of God through the righteousness of Christ. Let’s go about our business now, in peace.

(1) The Reformation Study Bible, James 3:17, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015. 

(2) Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, James 3:13-18, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/

April 2, 2019

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