The Bliss of Grace and Peace!

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Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”  1 Corinthians 1:3

In a greeting, we wish people well-being.  Paul, wishes for grace and peace from God and Jesus Christ unto the believers.  Grace takes me from here to there.  Grace walks me step by step, day by day to the throne of God.  I love this definition of grace: “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.”  I’m reminded of it in Your Word, here, Lord, “Being confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in me will continue it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Grace is underserved merit yet it is a continual process.  Grace came to me and saved me, sealed me with The Promise.  Grace continues to work through The Promise to continue the good work it began in me until it has brought me into a perfect and intimate relationship with You, Jesus.  Lord, I must realize that I shall not be complete or in my “perfected” state until both body and soul have been changed.  Like You, I must endure the flesh for a season as the flesh imposes upon me restrictions from complete intimacy with You.  Yet I now have power in You to control and guide those restrictions.  That’s probably part of the reason You prayed for us.

You were in complete intimacy with God in Heaven.  As man, You took on the restrictions of the flesh.  You know how it feels to long for physical and spiritual intimacy.  You can understand our longing.  You know what it is to be so busy in the world with the affairs and care of men that it would keep You from time with God if it could.  But You made time, probably after a long, hard, spiritually and physically draining day of expending Yourself for others, when sleep probably beckoned softly and sweetly.  Yet You turned her down for intimacy with God.  So I too, can order my day and make time to seek that same intimacy.  I can deny my physical weakness and receive strength through and in communion with You.  This is grace.

Peace.  The Greek word eirene has to do with “the absence of war” which leads to “health, well-being, and tranquility.”  But the Hebrew idea stems from the word shalom.  The Hebrew is all about relationships instead of conditions.  When I get relationships right, other things work out.  I mean tidyng my house all day doesn’t insure right relationships with my family.  Working to provide for my family doesn’t insure healthy relationships with them.  Throwing myself wholeheartedly into my ministry doesn’t mean I have a right relationship with You and those around me.

Peace is not about physical prosperity but richness in the Lord, confidence in the Lord.  This richness, confidence, and intimacy produced through the workings of grace allow me quietness and rest and patience and understanding knowing that You, God, are not only in control of my life but that You are in control of every situation and every life around me.  You expect, no, You daily perform in my heart and life what You desire at the rate and time You deem right for me personally.  And that goes for the others around me.   Grace is not a magic trick that all of a sudden appears and then is over.  It has a sudden onset through salvation, but then constantly works to mold, perfect, build, and lift up.   Peace takes me through all the changes in confidence and love with patience.  Peace helps me hold things together concerning others because I can remember the grace I was shown and given and extend that to them and myself.

Because grace is never disappointed in me but always looks to who I will be, I can have peace.  And I can look that way at those around me.  Grace retains the lesson of my sin, yet removes the stain of sin far from me so that I may be set free.  Peace is knowing this and extending it to others.  Grace holds no records of wrong.  Peace is experiencing that and extending it to others.

In John 14:27, Jesus comforted His disciples withthese words, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  Here You were, Lord, preparing them for Your coming death.  You weren’t leaving them with a greeting to grant them happiness and prosperity.  You were preparing them for events that would turn their world upside down by leaving Your peace.  Now You were alive but You knew You were going to die.  And You were telling them, don’t be afraid.  Why could they not be afraid because You have left Your peace?  Because Your peace was an unending relationship, an unending intimacy with You.  They could only have that relationship when You finished Your mission.  You gave it to us and left if for us.  Unbroken fellowship with God given to us, left for us.  You gave “present-moment peace” to know and have the confidence that my relationship with God has been repaired!

Lord, teach me to truly live in Your grace and peace, not just to know about, but to joyfully live in the exxperience of Your intimacy with me.  And teach me to show Your grace and peace to others, because it ought to be a natural outflow.  Now, Lord, help me to follow Your example of loving and seeking communion with God so that our relationship is right because only then will I be able to set my other relationships right and put everything else into right perspective around me.  May I run to You continually in grace and peace.

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Worth the Peace

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“Blessed are the peacemakers:  for they shall be called the children of God.”  Matthew 5:9

I know one thing today, I have always wanted to be a child of God.  I remember first hearing about God and Jesus when I was five years old.  And all I could think of was being His, following Him everywhere.  I wanted to be His child.  But my five year-old mind didn’t understand how to do that.  I understood that Jesus loved me immeasureably, but I had no idea how to become His child.  And the hard truth that Jesus is telling me and all of us here is that unless I am a peacemaker, He’s not going call me a child of God.  And if He doesn’t call me a child of God because He doesn’t consider me one, well then, I’m not a child of God.  That is a terrible thought.

What is God’s idea of peace and peacemaking?  The word itself is a compound Greek word made up of eirenopoios.  Eirene is the peace part and poios is the part about making or doing.  This is the Greek word for translating the Hebrew idea of shalom or peace.  But the Greek and Hebrew ideas weren’t the same.  The Greek idea of peace had to do with temporary absence of war.  The Hebrew idea was so much more and had God at the center.  It especially focussed on the “end of strife with God.”  It wasn’t just about physical and financial well-being, even though that was part of it.

But the New Testament idea of peace takes on an even “deeper sense of salvation”.  It’s our state as a believer, where we are “assured of God’s grace and content with God’s authority”.  It’s the end of the wrath of God against me through the salvation He has provide by Jesus Christ.  And it’s absolutely connected to each of these other things we’ve been learning about, to poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity.

Skip Moen states, “God’s peace is independent of outside conditions and is the fruit of an objective, real salvation with God.”  Well, that’s great.  That’s what I need.  But what does it mean for me to be a peacemaker?  I mean, none of these other calls to mirroring God in my life have been easy or natural for me.  What of this being a peacemaker?

I want to be a peacemaker, but I think this is just hard.  This is bringing everything thus far together only now it’s having me apply everything in real life relationship with other fallen people like me.  Imagine that, a fallen person choosing to make peace with other fallen people.  And the only way I can do that is if I have made peace with God through Jesus Christ.  Because if I haven’t, then I won’t understand what Your peace looks like or acts like or is like.  Because now You are asking me to be this peacemaker, just like Jesus, the Prince of peace.  Like Him, You are asking, no requiring of me, that I give up my own personal harmony, that I give up my own personal tranquility just to put myself at risk for the sake of peace.  You are asking me to take risk after risk to myself, to stand in the way of harm to protect someone else, in order that I might be an instrument of ending someone else’s conflict.  You are asking me to be ready to be at war for the sake of someone else.

A peacemaker isn’t waiting for peace to come to them.  A peacemaker is attempting to usher peace into other’s lives.  But before I can usher it in to other’s lives, I have to not be waiting for it.  I have to have found it.  Then I can engage in the battle for others.  And this is really hard because the thing I want most, I therefore have to give up.  This is personal here.

What do I want most?  I want peace.  Sure I want others to have peace.  But I want peace.  I want peace for me.  I want the things that God says I can have and that He wants for me.  I want relationships to resemble what God says they should be like.  I want believers to act like believers, for believers to look and act and think and be like You, Jesus.  I want the lost to want You and to want to be like You.  But the truth of the matter, the reality in life, is that this isn’t the way everyone, including myself responds in the real world.  And then what?  Then how much of a peacemaker am I?  It’s one thing when a nonbeliever persecutes me.  But what if that persecution comes from someone close, someone who professes to be a believer?  What’s my peacemaking like then?

What am I called to give up for others to maintain or bring peace?  I’m called to give up all those things that I feel are my rights.  I’m called to give up as much as Jesus gave up for me.  But I must hold fast to my poverty of spirit.  It’s in these times that I become even more of a beggar dependant upon, You, Lord.  I must not refrain from mourning and examining my own heart and praying for the heart of the one whom I want to restore to Your and our peace.  I must continue in all meekness and rightousness and mercy and purity.  I can’t give up any of that, any of Your glory, to regain or restore peace.

If You have already made peace with me, then it is my turn to offer others the opportunity to let You make peace with them.  It’s my obligation to walk like You and give up my pride to reach out to them.  I must step into the fire I would prefer to avoid.  I must pray for those who have hurt me.  I must engage with them.  I must love them.

And none of this can I do on my own.  I can only do this because I am Your child.  You have designated me that.  Why?  Because You have made me to resemble You.  I want to resemble You.  You have adopted me.  And with that adoption I have yielded myself to Your care as my Parent.  And in yielding myself to that care, You are forming Your character in me.  Which means, I will resemble You in the way I live and treat others and respond in situations.  And it’s not that I have called myself this.  You are the one who has described me this way.  You are the One who is forming Your nature in me.  And You see this as I yield to You.

Why must I be a peacemaker?  Because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)  God sacrificed His own Son, Jesus, even though we should have been killed for our rebellion.  And those who come in faith, find peace, eternal peace, because He made peace first.  He had every right to hate every one of us, starting with Adam and Eve.  And we think we have the right to hate our enemies.  But because He didn’t, we actually don’t have that right either.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.'”(Matthew 5:43-45)  Continuing in Matthew 6:9-10 Jesus instructs us to pray.  We are to pray that God would be glorified.  That’s not just in me.  That’s in my neighbor and in my enemy and in me.  I’m to pray for His will to be done.  That’s not just for me, but in my neighbor’s life and in my enemy’s life.  And if I go on there is forgiveness, out and out forgiveness for whoever needs to be forgiven no matter what they’ve done.  And there is deliverance.  And there is God sanctifying us and making us more and more like Him daily and purifying us.

Yes, You Lord, are going to put people in our lives that make it hard to keep peace.  Because I need to be developed by Your hand, molded into a peacemaker like You.  You said in Matthew 5, “If you love them that love you, what reward have you?  Don’t even the publicans do the same?”  What have you gained by loving someone who is easy to love?  Has that changed You to be more like Me?  Has that taken My hand in Your life?  Has that taken Your choice to yield to Me?  Does that take a believer to do or can any person do that?  Can an unredeemed person act that way naturally?  Then how does that glorify Me?  Jesus continues, “And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others?  Don’t the publicans do that also?”  Are you going to ignore people because there is a rupture in the relationship?   Will you just hang out with those who are in agreement with You?  Are you going to nurse your grudges, walk to the other side of the street and ignore the greeting?  Is that what the Holy Spirit is leading?  Is that how the Holy Spirit makes peace?

Was it easy for You, Jesus, to reconcile Yourself to us on the cross while we were yelling, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”?  Was it easy for You, to continue loving Peter when he denied You?  Was it easy to love Your disciples when they ran away scared instead of standing by Your side?  Then why do I expect to be held to a lesser standard than my Lord and Savior?  Romans 12:18 tells me “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all me.”  I can attempt to repair my part.  Jesus did His tremendous, glorious part.  He offered a way to repair the rift.  But there are those who will not accept His reparation.  I must do my part to repair the rifts around me.  But I cannot control whether someone accepts my reparation.   But have I truly done my part?

There will never on this earth be a time when an opportunity to repair a breach in a relationship will not arise. I am called to be a peacemaker like Christ.  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:18 let’s us know that these opportunities will even arise within the church!  “For first of all, when you come together in church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.  For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”  Yes, strife will come, and it’s not by accident.  God is using this strife to make us into peacemakers like Himself.

To be honest, I hate this kind of strife, Lord.  It tears me up inside.  I ache for the return of the right relationship when it is broken.  And sometimes, I’m at a loss to what I can do.  So, I approach the one I feel estranged from.  I try to greet them.  I wait hopefully for a moment of restoration.  But sometimes, I do avoid.  Sometimes I have to let my own pain subside so that I can care more about their pain.  And sometimes that takes time.  And it takes Your power and surrendering to You to keep me from allowing that seed planted by pain to grow into bitterness.  Being a peacemaker is putting my position in You to the test.  Am I really Your child?  Then I will want the things You want.  Am I really Your child?  Then no matter my pain, I will want to restore relationships.  Am I Your child?  Then I will want to be a reconciler.  It will be more important than my rights and my pride.  It’s not easy but it’s what I’m called to.  It’s not easy but it’s who You have made me.  It’s the most difficult thing in my life but it’s who I am in You.

The more I love You God, the more I find I have to give up. Your kind of peace isn’t easy.  It wasn’t easy for You to bring it to us and it won’t be easy for us either.  You said, “Don’t think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I haven’t come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.”   (Matthew 10:34-36)  First off, establishing our peace with God, that true relationship and relinquishing of all of me and all my belief and beliefs to Him, that sets me at odds with the world.  And just doing that can set me at odds with family and friends and especially my enemies.  And as I follow the Lord in sharing that peace with them, they may find that even more abrasive than inviting, though I offer with the utmost love.  God’s peace is living in His salvation, the salvation in Jesus Christ.  He alone is peace and only in Him is our peace found and lived out and fully attained physically and spiritually one day.  But the truth is that some won’t accept that kind of peace.  John said it well, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”  But here’s the good news about those who seek peace and then choose to let it flow from them to others, “But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”

The ones who know the Truth, who know Jesus, must love peace and work for it.  Why?  Because it’s the outflow of Christ in us.  It’s the evidence of God manifesting Himself and His workmanship in us.  He is doing this work and we are living in His work, in His way.  I pray for my enemies because I have the mind and heart of Christ and He prayed for me when I was His enemy.  He did good for me when I was not good to Him.  He greeted me along the way.  He came to me first.  He loved me first.  He longed for the barrier of sin between me and Him to be broken down.  He longed for the broken relationship to be restored.  And He always did it according to His allegiance to God and His allegiance to His word no matter what kind of animosity it brought down on Himself.  I mean, He would speak the truth and people would grind their teeth and want to stone Him.  But their response didn’t matter.  He was right.  He was in the middle of God’s will.  He was God’s peacemaker doing what He was called to do, being Jesus to the world whether they hated or loved Him, whether they received Him or not.  And as the Father has sent Jesus, so Jesus is sending us.

I have to remember that “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  Children of God resemble their Father.  They act and look and think like Jesus.  And I must never give up purity for peace.  There is no compromise.  This is peace God’s way, not man’s.  Jesus turned our idea of peace upside down.  When confronted with Rome’s injustice and the killing of “innocent” Jews, He turned the bitterness around and used it to demand “personal, individual repentance”.  “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish!”  In other words, “Unless you seek My peace first, you’re lost.”  “For Jesus the eternal destiny of a human soul is a weightier matter, a bigger issue, than the temporal destiny of a nation.” (Precept Austin)  I can come to Jesus not wanting to pay taxes to Tiberias Caesar, my Roman overlord, and pose it like a question about God’s will.  He’ll turn it into a “personal command aimed right at [my] own heart: ‘You give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s'” (Matthew 22:15-21)  Maybe my brother is not being just.  He’s being unfair with dividing our inheritance.  Jesus will warn my conscience instead, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?…Take heed and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:13-15)

God’s peace turns the world upside down.  If it’s not turning my own personal world upside down, maybe I’m not understanding His peace.  But if my world is being turned upside down, if some people are beginning to call me foolish and get upset with me and yet God is still pleased, well then maybe I’m starting to understand His kind of peace.  Isn’t that funny?  I’m called to be a peacemaker, yet in being one, it will often cause strife in others and strife for me.  Those who surrender to God’s peacemaking and let Him change their beliefs will become peacemakers themselves.  But those who have their own beliefs and want to keep following them, will fight, and taunt, and jest, and ridicule.

But Christ, “having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of two one new man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:  and came and preached to you which were afar off, and to them that were near.”  (Ephesians 2:15-17)  Therefore, “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.”  (Romans 14:19)  Why?  Because it’s what Jesus did for us.  And because it’s an evidence, a manifestation of what He is continually doing in us.  “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”  (James 3:18)  Lord, I want to resemble You.  I don’t want to just call myself a child of God, I want to be one.  I want You to look at me and say, “Hey, see that one there?  That’s my child.  See the resemblence?”  So, no matter what it takes, teach me to be a peacemaker like You.  Let me be willing to make peace no matter the cost, because You are worth it.

This Is Reality

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“But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.'”  Matthew 1:20

Jesus was conceived into a world that was filled with doubt, distrust, betrayal, skepticism, hopes belayed by fear, shame, and so much more.  Here You are, Lord, telling Mary and even Zechariah and Elizabeth that You are sending Your Son and how.  And Joseph hears from Mary and doesn’t believe this far-fetched story.  So not only was the world filled with those attitudes I mentioned above, but Joseph shows us how full of “tradition” it was too.

The tradition would have been to stone Mary.  Now, I was just thinking.  Wouldn’t it be blasphemy to call yourself the mother of the Son of God?  Just wondering.  I mean, if you weren’t the mother of the Son of God?  I wonder if she could have been stoned for that?  Seems like a lose, lose situation for her.

So this is the kind of world that You, Jesus, were sent into.  “Peace be unto you: as My Father has sent Me, even so send I you.”  (John 20:21)  Here I am, thinking about how You were sent into the world and it’s bearing on me and how I am sent into this world.  I’ve learned earlier that You were sent to be a sacrifice, therefore, I am sent as a living sacrifice.  I’ve learned that You were born into this world in order to become fully man yet still God, therefore, I must be born again to become like You spiritually.    And today I see that I am living in the same kind of world that You entered life into.  Here I am, sent to a world full of doubt, distrust, betrayal, skepticism, hopes belayed by fear, shame, and so much more, just like You.  And I will be effected by those things just as You were.  But I also learn that You, Lord, are bigger than those things, and every one of those things must succumb to Your will because You are the one in control.

I am truly sent into a world filled with hurtfull, damaging, sinfull, saddening ideas and traditions that want to hold me and others back from You, the Truth.  But listen to this again.  “Peace be unto you: as My Father has sent Me, even so send I you.”  Notice what Jesus introduces His sending with.  “Peace be unto you.”  If He could have peace in the midst of everything that He was born into, in the midst of everything He lived among and in, and amidst the pain and suffering and torment of the cross, then surely there is a peace that He is promising us that is equal to His peace.

Is that true?  Do I have peace no matter what is going on around me?  Even in the midst of all the trash of the world?  Because just by Your words alone, they tell me that You have already given me peace and that it is part and parcel with my sending.  This is a package deal.

Now, I want to know.  Was Jesus speaking Greek to the disciples when He said this?  Because the Greek word for “peace” is “eirene.”  It means “prosperity, -one, peace, quietness, rest, set at one again.”  And that’s good.  But what if I go back to the Hebrew idea of peace?  Do I find something more.  Because Jesus was Jewish, not Greek.  The Jewish word for peace that Jesus would have known and used is “shalom.”  Shalom is “the Hebrew equivalent of continuous well-being with God and men.”  Oh, but it’s so much more!

The Refiner’s Fire tells us “Hebrew words go beyond their spoken pronunciation. Each Hebrew word conveys feeling, intent and emotion. Shalom is more then just simply peace; it is a complete peace. It is a feeling of contentment, completeness, wholeness, well being and harmony.”  Strong’s Concordance tells us “Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord. Shalom comes from the root verb shalom meaning to be complete, perfect and full.”  Isaiah 9:6 tells us who this shalom, this peace, comes from.  Listen, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Sar Shalom).” (Isaiah 9:6)

So You, Jesus, were sent into this troubled world as, and to be, the Prince of Peace, and not just any peace, but absolute, true, complete, full, whole peace found only in You.  And only in You can I obtain and experience this shalom, this true peace.  And this is what You are sending me into this troubled world with, to share with others that they might come to know and experience the shalom, the peace that is only found in You.

Now, I am forced to ask myself a question?  What is controlling me?  Am I controlled by the attitudes of this world?  Or am I controlled by Your perfect peace which surrounds me, inhabits me, empowers me, and remains no matter what the world looks like around me?  Because I’ve been sent into the world just like You.  I’ve been sent into a world that throws worse things than rotten tomatoes at us.  And whatever they threw at You, Jesus, I can expect them to throw at me.  But You have prepared me and each of Your children for Your sending.  You gave us Your shalom, Your peace, straight from You.  It’s in us.  It’s over us.  It’s all around us.  It flows from us.  And it reaches out to others if only we desperately rely on it.  Lord, I want to live in Your shalom.  I want to believe and walk in that belief every moment of every day.  And when I get caught up in the hurtful stuff, remind me that Your shalom is there to rule my day if only I will let it.

Let me end with Paul’s words from Ephesians 4:1-8, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to me.'”  So let us live in the immeasurable gift that God has given each of His children, the peace of Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace.  This is reality.

Bring On the Christmas Inconveniences!

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“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Luke 2:14

Yesterday, two days before Christmas, was an interesting day.  By early morning, two of the things I had planned for the day, already wound up being altered.  That didn’t leave me confidence about the rest of my plans.  It’s been one of those years really.  I just don’t have too much confidence in my plans.  But I knew they could change.  The only thing is that when my plans change like that, especially when it leaves me out of control like that, sometimes it’s not a good feeling.  But then I have to remember that I’m not the one in control anyways, and it’s really O.K.  Because You, Lord, are the One who is really in control of my plans, no matter how big or little they are.

And here I am today, still in Luke.  John is growing up strong in the Spirit at the end of chapter 1.  But today, in chapter 2, I’m confronted with and reminded of that wonderful little word again, “ginomai,” “it came to pass.”   And it’s not just that this random event happened.  This particular event happened because You, Lord, brought it to pass.  It even looked like someone else was in control, but they weren’t, You were in control all along.  You had said in the Old Testament that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem.  Here’s Micah’s words from so long ago, “But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”  Yes, this little glitch in everyone’s plans wasn’t an accident.  Every glitch is a divine intervention.  It just depends on how we look at it.

So Caesar has this urging in his own little heart to gather everyone to their own town so that he can count all the people and receive their taxes.  Funny how Caesar’s little “pagan” heart has this urging at just this “right” time for Your purposes, Lord.  Isn’t it funny how this major inconvenience imposed by a “pagan” brings Mary and Joseph exactly where they are supposed to be?  What if they had missed that Scripture in Micah?  What if they hadn’t understood it’s significance in their life?  What if Joseph’s training in Scripture hadn’t taken him deep enough to have that ingrained in his head?  How else would they wind up in Bethlehem at just the right time?  Well, I suppose we all need divine inconveniences like this.  I’m just wondering what other things we, or I, would miss without Your divine inconveniences being placed in my life.

So Mary and Joseph go back to Bethlehem.  And while there, they met with other inconveniences in their schedule, in their plans.  I mean, first of all, it surely wasn’t the most opportune time to travel for Mary.  And then, all their relatives had so many people in the house already, even their spare guest rooms were full and they had to stay in the area near the animals.  And whether I call that the barn, or it was in the main house near a special room attached for the animals, window and manger at the base of the room in the house, it certainly wasn’t the most optimum area for giving birth.  There was no handcrafted crib made by Joseph’s hands, only the eating trough of the animals.  Well, the swaddling cloth was probably one constant, that really might not have been out of ordinary.

And those poor shepherds in the field that night.  Even they suffered from divine inconveniences.  Everything was going along like ordinary when all of a sudden there plans are changed.  There is this angel and they are afraid.  And the angel has good news for them, actually good news of great joy for all people.  It was time for them to get off their tushes and go see this baby lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes.  And then came inconvenience number 2.  A multitude of angels appeared and started singing praise to God!  Imagine that interruption!  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Now, I’m coming back to this praise, Lord, but first, I just saw that word again!

“And it came to pass”  that after the angels departed, the shepherds acted on what they were inconvenienced by.  They went to find the baby.  Did it just so happen that they went or that they even felt like going?  Oh, my, how could it be more obvious that this interruption changed their hearts and their desires.  You brought this to pass in their hearts.  You gave them this desire.  You urged them on.  And they responded to You.  And they found what You wanted them to find.  And they spread the news abroad.

What was the news that took so many interruptions and inconveniences to find?  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”  This was the Savior.  This was a Savior not like any other savior, even in the humble way he arrived.  Here is the Savior, who would bring peace, “eirene.”  The Greek implies prosperity, quietness, rest, to set at one again.  Skip Moen knows the Greek better than me.  I want to see what he has to say about this word.  “The Greek word for ‘peace’ is eirene.  In the New Testament, the word is about relationships, not external conditions.  The word is not primarily associated with resolution of political conflict, good health, personal well-being or even prosperity.  It is associated with words like love, grace, glory, honor, righteousness and mercy.  Its opposites are also words about relationships:  anxiety, anguish, fear, confusion, division, distress.  Peace is the settled confidence that my relationship with God has been repaired.  Jesus tells us that he ‘gives’ this peace and ‘leaves’ this peace with us.  It is not an announcement that we have accomplished something.  It is a gift left behind for us to enjoy.  Jesus is giving his followers a going-away present.  That present is unbroken fellowship with God.  It is a present that we can have right now and it will last forever.  It places a safety net over our lives that nothing can take away.”

This is what the angels were singing about to shepherds, lowly shepherds.  This was the peace that this baby was coming to offer all men and women, boys and girls, if only they would be willing to be inconvenienced to receive it.  But it doesn’t stop there.  There is more good news.  Jesus is bringing good will toward people too.  Now, I’m not sure what to think here, Lord, because nine other interpretations of this Scripture say, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”  (Luke 2:14)  But I wonder if that is missing part of what You want us to see?

See, Your being pleased in me is putting this great act in my ball park.  I mean, it’s saying that my response determines the greatness of what You have done this night in Bethlehem.  If it’s up to me pleasing You, then this gift isn’t as big as the angels make it to be.  Because how many people are really pleasing to You?  Then this gift for all people, has just become a gift for some.

But what if it’s not about me and my ability to please at all.  What if it is all about You.  What if it’s all about Your “eudokia”, Your good will toward men?  Now that’s a whole different story.  What if it just satisfies You to intervene on the behalf of men?  What if it just delights You to interrupt our lives so that we can actually see and understand and know You, who are so above us?  What if it just delights You to instill Your peace in us?  What if it just delights You to make me something I’m not, to make me good like You?  What if it is Your absolute kindness, to make this offer to me?  What if this is Your wish, to change my heart and life and make them after Yours?  What if this is Your purpose for me in all of creation, to be a recipient of Your GOODNESS, of Your GOOD WILL?  What if it’s not about Your good intentions for us?  What if it’s all about Your good working in us?

What if every “ginomai”, every change in my plans, is because You have this wonderful, blessed, holy desire to change me into Your GOOD image?  What if everything that comes to pass, is so that I can learn to trust You more deeply?  What if it is really so little about me, and so much about You and Your workmanship in me?

I mean, why me?  Why Joseph?  Why Mary?  Why the shepherds?  Why Bethlehem?  Why do You choose us?  Well, it’s not because me, or Joseph, or Mary, or the shepherds, or Bethlehem were anything special.  It’s because You, God, are Special.  See, we’re all depraved.  But not You.  See, You’re not obligated to show us grace.  It’s not something any of us deserve.  You choose me not because of my merits, but because of Yours.  You choose me not because of me but because of Your good pleasure.

Paul got it.  Paul saw what I’m seeing in the Christmas story today.  It’s all about Your “predestinating us to adoption through Jesus Christ to [Youself], according to the good pleasure of [Your] will.” ( Ephesians 1:5)  See, this “eudokia”, this good pleasure means “to think well of.”  It’s more than nice thoughts though.  God, You think these good thoughts toward us and then You are willing and resolved to act in accordance with these good thoughts.  Because of Your thoughts toward us, You act in benevolence and grace.  But why?  Why do You feel this way and think this way toward us?

Because it’s more than thoughts in You.  This “eudokia” is based in Your character.  It’s because You are good.  And it goes beyond the fact that You do good things.  Even Your good things come about because they come out of Your good character.  Your goodness is why You are the way You are and why You act the way You act.  Skip Moen put it this way, “The goodness of God is the concentrated energy of active holiness, zealous to promote and produce what is benevolent, just and pure.  The goodness of God is not God’s life-enhancing acts.  It is His very being, a person who is thoroughly and utterly committed to righteousness expressed in action.  God is good because goodness is Who He is, not because He simply chooses to act compassionately today.  When Paul expresses election as the result of God’s good will, he is telling us that the very essence of Who God is will be found in the choices God makes.  There is never any discrepancy between what is good and what God does.  God’s good pleasure is to bring into existence what is righteous, by thought, word and deed.”

So, now I have the answer to why You choose me God.  It’s a righteous act.  By choosing me You get to show Your holiness, Your goodness, Your righteousness in me.  See, I’m not righteous.  I’m everything but.  But You are more powerful than me.  Why would You want my sinfulness to block Your goodness from being expressed in me?  You don’t want it to.  So You choose me.  You choose me to magnify Yourself.  You choose me and my circumstances so that Your character can shine in Your creation, and I’m part of that creation, designed for Your glory.

So here’s the inconvenient part of the deal.  You choose me.  That’s amazing in itself.  But will I allow myself to be inconvenienced, will I allow my plans for my life to be changed, and will I choose You?  I mean, if I really think about it, You inconvenienced Yourself beyond measure for me, just to actively engage Yourself in goodness on my behalf.  Jesus left heaven, had to live like a baby, go through the birth process and everything.  It’s a miracle but it’s not pretty and it’s pretty uncomfortable.  He went through the pain of being disbelieved and misunderstood and ridiculed.  He suffered derision and physical persecution, and betrayal by his closest friends.  He suffered excruciating, unimaginable pain for the cross.  He suffered the weight of my sin, the sin of all the world, and the wrath of His heavenly Father, You, God.  Yes, You inconvenience Yourself for me more than I have ever inconvenienced myself for You.  And why?  Because You are so full of GOODNESS that it absolutely delights You to make others who are so unlike You, just like You.

Yes, I want to respond to You and Your goodness in obedience.  I can’t be good without You because only You are good.  And I am so overwhelmed that You choose by Your goodness to share Your goodness, to impart Your goodness in me.  So bring on the interruptions of my plans and the inconveniences.  No matter the cost, Your goodness is worth everything.

No Matter the Circumstances

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Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  Philippians 4:11

Here’s my question today, “How long does it take to learn to be content?”  Funny question?  But it really is my question.  When do I really learn that lesson?  How long did it take Paul?  Well, I’m not really sure but I looked into his life timeline.  He was converted by the Lord on the road to Damascus and placed his trust in the Lord around 34 A.D.  And this letter to the Philippian believers was written somewhere around 61-63 A.D.  That’s about 27 years.  Not only is that 27 years but it’s 27 hard years from the start.

Before his conversion, Paul probably had everything people of his day wanted.  He had a political and religious standing of importance in the community, respect, money, power.  What did he have after his conversion, after he placed his trust in You, Lord?  I think he started out with some solitude with You in Arabia for maybe 3 years.  And at the beginning of his conversion, he was already an outcast.  People were afraid of him so it wasn’t like there were welcome arms all around.  On his return, his preaching and teaching get him drummed out of cities, persecuted, beaten, chased.  He was shipwrecked and imprisoned.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

To get the picture, I want to listen to Paul’s own words.  As a minister of Christ, Paul speaks of superabundant labours,  stripes beyond measure, superabundant prison visits, and even death many times.  To be in danger of death is one thing, but to be left for dead or even believe God revived You from the dead is a whole deeper story, and I think that’s also what Paul has experienced.  He goes on, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold exposure.   And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”  Yeah.  Paul didn’t learn contentment all at once.  And to learn it, You, Lord, had to take him through some pretty rough stuff.  I suppose if I want to know supernatural contentment, I need to learn to go through supernatural circumstances.

See, You God, are Supernatural.  If I want to experience You, I have to learn how to live in the Supernatural.  If I can do it on my own, then that’s exactly what I’m doing, doing it on my own.  But I can’t do supernatural on my own.  Only You can.  And I can only do that if You do it in me.

If I want to come to the point in my life of living life supernaturally in and through You, then I have to let You bring supernatural situations into my life.  And I have to respond rightly to them.  I have to begin seeing every circumstance as Your circumstance designed for my benefit and Your glory.

I have to learn to live a life in need, not so I can call on others, but so I can learn to be dependent on You.  And so that in that dependence, I can learn to be confident and content in You.   This word for content in Greek is “autarkes.”  It means “self complacent, contented.”  Get this, it implies self-sufficient.  What?!  How can I be dependent and self-sufficient at the same time?  Isn’t something wrong here?

Well, let’s understand this idea of self-sufficiency here.  Skip Moen relates it as “the positive sense of being satisfied in mind and disposition.”  And get this, it’s not passive.  I have to make it happen.  The two words that best express this idea in Hebrew are “avah” and “Ya’al.”  Here is more of what Skip has to share about their meaning. “Both words convey the idea of choosing.  ‘Avah is about being positively inclined to respond.  Ya’al is about making a decision to act.  Neither one conveys the idea of simply waiting around for something.  To be content is to choose a certain frame of mind, a certain kind of external activity, a certain way of being in the world.  That’s why contentment has to be learned.”

Paul had learned to choose Your sufficiency.  His frame of mind in all these circumstances, good or bad, was centered on You.  His activity in the midst of the trials was centered on You.  His way of being in the midst of much or little was centered on You.  You were his Sufficiency so he was sufficient and all his needs were sufficient because You were what He needed most and he learned to keep his focus on You.  Lord, You warned us it was going to be rough.  You said that in this life there would be troubles, but You also promised us Your peace if we learned to remain in Your focus, in You.  Why did You tell me about the rough times I should expect in this world as Your follower?  “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Tribulation, “thlipsis,” is ‘back-breaking” pressure.  As Your follower, You are preparing me for the supernatural pressure that comes with living in You in a foreign territory, under an enemy who is looking to destroy and plunder everything that belongs to You.  In the world I’m guaranteed tribulation and pressure.  But in You I’m guaranteed peace.  Now the Greek word for peace is “eirene.”  And the Greek meaning has the connotation of the absence of war, of prosperity, good health, and well-being.  But That’s not what Jesus is talking about here.  It’s not what Paul has learned and is teaching us about.  See, the Hebrew notion in this Greek expression comes out of “shalom.”  “Shalom begins with right relationships because right relationships determine all the other factors in life.  Fixing my retirement plan will not improve my relationship with my wife, but improving my relationship with my wife will certainly have an effect on my retirement plan.” (Skip Moen)  So, having a right relationship with Jesus will determine all the other factors in my life.

I can be courageous in the middle of the deepest pressure because I am under the goodness and power of my Everlasting God.  You already overcame it all!  You already conquered!  All of Your promises are true.  You will continue this glorious, supernatural work You have begun in me!  Whether I have food or no food, You remain good and You remain with me.  Will I remain in You?  Whether I am persecuted or at ease, You remain good and You remain with me.  Will I remain in You?  Whether I live or I die, will I still insist that You are good and You are with me?  Will I remain in You?  I was created to be an overcomer because my God is an overcomer.  Who will my focus be in?  How will I live?  How will I act?  How will I think?  How will I respond?

Lord, I must learn the lesson that Paul learned.  You must take me through hardship so that I will learn.  I want to be able to know exactly where Paul is coming from and be able to say with him, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through HIm who strengthens me.”  Yes, it’s not because someone, or even You MADE Paul bring himself low, or abound.  He learned through You to bring himself to be grateful and in You in those low circumstances.  And in the abundance, he learned to bring himself under You and be grateful also.  He learned the secret.  The secret was that You, Lord, are the sufficience in every situation, whether bounty or dire need.

Yes, “such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…”  See, You love a cheerful giver, Lord, because You are a cheerful giver to the max.  “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.  As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-12)

Well, Lord, Your Word took me exactly where I was hoping it would take me today.  Straight to a heart of thankfulness.  Because in the midst of all these hard things and all these pressures, I need to learn to ever be thankful.  Because no matter what, You have given me and continually give me the greatest gift of all, a relationship with You, my God!  So, when the money doesn’t come, thank You, Lord, I am Yours.  And when the money comes, thank You, Lord, I am Yours.  And when things fall apart around me, thank You, Lord, You hold me together in You.  And when things are just honky-dory, thank You, Lord, because You are better than the best thing in my life.  So, Lord, teach me this contentment that Paul learned to experience in You.  And let my praise in and for You never cease to usher from my lips and heart no matter the circumstances.

Is Peace Evasive?

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“These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace.  In the world you shall have tribulation:  but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33Image

“I’ve told you all these things for a reason.  Don’t miss my purpose here.  I’ve been preparing you by My words and my example.  But you need one thing more.  Just like the rich young ruler, there is one thing you lack.  It’s this “in Me” part.  You don’t quite get it yet because You don’t totally have me yet.  You don’t already understand how I have overcome the world already but you will get it soon.  After I show you in a way that you can understand, after the cross, after I rise, You will understand that I have overcome.  That day when I come to dwell inside of you through My Holy Spirit, then You will know more than facts to understand.  Then You will know Me and all that THAT means.  That’s what all this has been about.”

Lord, that’s what I hear You saying.  And the more I read, the more I believe it.  But the more I read, the more I believe You.  The more I read, the more I believe, the more I believe, the more I see, the more I see and believe, the more You are changing me and the more You teach me and the more I know You.

There is so much treasure in this one verse, Lord.  So much of Your desire for us.  So much of Your preparation for us.  So much of Your encouragement of us.  But so much of You.  It’s all about You.  It starts with You, in You, and it ends with You.  And it’s all about my knowing You.

You have told me everything I need to know to come to have peace.  It’s not about knowing how to have peace either.  It’s about knowing You.  It’s about experiencing the Prince of Peace.  It’s not about gaining a characteristic, it’s about gaining You and it flowing forth as a newly formed part of my character.  But what is peace to start with?

HELPS Word Studies puts it together in a lovely way.  “Peace” is from the Greek word “eirene” “(from eiro, ‘to join, tie together into a whole’)- properly, wholeness, i.e. when all essential parts are joined together; peace (God’s gift of wholeness.)”  And where does that gift of wholeness come from?  When are all my essential parts joined together?  Only in You.

Strong’s Concordance equates it with quietness and rest.  Skip Moen makes a statement, that when Jesus mentioned “peace” “He didn’t say ‘eirene’ (as the Greek text records).  He said ‘Shalom,’ the Hebrew equivalent of continuous well-being with God and men.”  For our records it was written in Greek, but there would have been thinking in Hebrew going on by Jewish men.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Understanding the meaning behind words, one has to look at the culture and its nuances. I want to know the mind of the original speaker here, so I don’t want to know what the Greek thought about it; I want to know what You think about it.

The Greeks saw peace as a “state of play.”  We’re either in a temporary state of peace or of war.  But Hebrew thinking was different.  Your mindset was different.  In Hebrew thinking, “the condition of men is a matter of relationship , not status…[M]en exist when they are in right relationship with their Creator, in shalom.  When they are not in right relationship, it isn’t war that they experience.  It is non-existence..The door is opened for shalom,  not as a title we carry or a possession we hold, but as a conversation with the Father of lights.  Shalom is talking life over with God.”( Skip Moen)  Is my life a conversation with You?  Do other people see that conversation going on?  Are they drawn to join that conversation?

Peace is more than the “absence of war” like classical Greek implies.  And when we have an absence of war we start looking forward to “health, well-being, and prosperity.”  But peace is more than those.  It is more than a state of being or a state of internal or external affairs.  And it’s not about a respite. The Hebrew influence flipped it from a word about conditions, to a word about relationship.  “[T]he context of shalom is not primarily in the material world of possessions or assets.  Shalom begins with right relationships because right relationships determine all the other factors in life… Yeshua is not telling his disciples that He is leaving them in a state of blessed euphoria.  He is not granting them a condition of happiness, prosperity and personal well being.  He says that He is leaving them His peace.  What is His peace?… Yeshua is preparing His followers for events that will appear to be the end of everything…  He is leaving them a special relationship made possible only because He is finishing His mission… It is the settled confidence that my relationship with God has been repaired.  It is the declaration that God has opened the door for me…Peace begins with the gift of God’s presence… ” (Skip Moen)

“Shalom [peace] is what we want and what we need…  It’s the hope of universal Sabbath, the rest that the world longs to embrace as the fulfillment of the creative order…The Hebrew consciousness is informed with a certain relaxed sense of purpose.  Why?  Because it all doesn’t depend on me!  God’s hand moves invisibly through the lives of men, and as long as it does, I am finally not fully responsible for the outcomes of my efforts.  I can trust in a universe that conspires with me to bring about His good purposes.  I can rest in knowing His plans cannot be thwarted.  Tired?  Yes, of course I’m tired.  I work hard.  But ‘so tired?'”  (Skip Moen)  No, because You are my Peace, my Rest, my Stillness, my Assurance, my Hope, my Strength, my Sabbath, and You are what I enjoy and revel in.

So this was all the part where You have been re-speaking these things to me so that in You I might have peace.  And in all honesty, that’s just it.  I wish I knew Greek for myself because I keep reading this verse. And I keep reading “that in Me you might have peace.”  And that “might” bothers me.  Because in the original word “echo” it is the present tense word for “have.”  And I’m searching all over the internet and for every Greek help I can find to see where that might is coming from.  I don’t get it.  Some translations are saying so I will have, so I might have, so I may have.  Well, do I or don’t I?  Why is Greek in present tense?  Does it really just mean, “In Me you have peace”?  I don’t need to know that I maybe could or maybe couldn’t have this peace.  If my existence depends on it, on You, then I need to know that I HAVE this peace, that I HAVE YOU.  

Now, getting back to the honest truth of me.  Always, in You, I have peace.  In You, there is never a millisecond of non-peace.  Well, if that’s true, why have I been struggling so much?  Why am I often not feeling that peace?  Is it because it is evading me?  Is it because Your peace has stopped or been removed?  Why am I worried?  Why am I frustrated?  Why don’t I have peace?  You promised it.  Where is it then?

Well, honesty hurts big time.  It’s all right there.  In You I have peace.  Always.  Out of You I don’t have peace.  Even though I am Yours I can live as though I am not.  Even though I am Yours I can think as though I am not.  Even though I am Yours I can believe as though I am not.  And right now, I have to admit that I am like one of those blades of grass that is bending with every hard wind and even the light winds too.  Things have been appearing to fall apart around me, I mean it’s like everything is crashing down.  It’s like the spiritual fabric of everything I hold dear is being ripped apart and I can’t stop it.  And it’s lasting longer than I like and I’ve gotten short-tempered and frustrated because it all seems to be in the face of Your plan and Your desires.

But what if it isn’t in the long run?  What if You are just training me up and preparing me for even tougher stuff.  And what if that’s not even the point.  What if the whole point is whether I will totally surrender to trust You no matter how You do it or what You decide to do?  What if i just stopped and appreciated that in the midst of everything, You are in control and I’m not?  What if I just stopped and appreciated that in the midst of everything, this is part of Your plans for my good and theirs?  What if I just stopped and  let You squeeze out the rotten stuff, squeeze it right out of my life and my family’s, and stopped complaining about it, and rejoiced in it instead?  What if I actually practiced what I preached?

Lord, this is what You lived out.  You came, the Prince of Peace, and lived a life far from peaceful.  You understand everything that I’m going through and more.  But it’s not just that You understand.  Your life and circumstances didn’t happen by mistake.  They didn’t happen because men made plans and decisions and You were affected or held back by them.  Everything that happened in Your life was orchestrated by God.  And that’s what I need to realize in my life.  People aren’t just doing things at random.  You have a reason for everything.  YOU ARE IN CONTROL.  And I must let You be in control.  I must learn to love You being in control no matter what because then I will truly be loving You.  Then I will have the peace that is You, not just of You.  This is trust.  This is faith.  This is the relationship with me that You desire.  And I want to desire it to.

Forgive me, Lord, for “kicking against the goads.”  I mean, this all really hurts and I don’t like it.  But if I can’t surrender to You now, in this, when the tougher stuff comes, what then?  So, remind me every moment that You are in charge.  Remind me every moment that this is all for my peace in You.  Remind me every millisecond that You are in every situation and teach me to let You have Your way.  Dying to self is such a hard lesson to learn, Lord, and a painful one.  But thank You, Lord, that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God!”  (Luke 18:27)