I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY

 

By now, at this time in the Christmas season, I suspect that most of us have seen some form of the Nativity pageant in our church, or at a school performance, or on television. 

a-wise-man-from-childrens-pagent
A wise man at our children’s Christmas nativity scene.

We have been told about the events that first Christmas Day over 2,000 years ago when the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the lowly shepherds who were tending their sheep in the field.  The angels’ announcement is found in Luke 2:13-14 where we read:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The King James Version of verse 14 says “and on earth peace, goodwill toward men”.  

The Jews wanted a prince to restore a peaceful kingdom to Israel, so this angelic hymn was, quite literally, music to their ears!  Even today, many people believe that true religion must bring peace. And, this proposition would be true if the message of Jesus Christ was universally received.  It cannot be argued that any system of laws could be more suited to living peacefully in human society than the Gospel of Christ. 

And he [the man] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Luke 10:27-28 [See also Matthew 22:37-41] 

But, even a superficial glance at the daily newspaper shows, such love does not reign in our society or our world, and sometimes not even in our churches.  Indeed, the fact of the matter is that love is all too often missing from our interactions with others. Road rage, murders, massacres, vehicles plowing down pedestrians, infants being shot while in a car seat in the family vehicle, people shot while praying in their church, wars and conflicts … and the list goes on.  Hatred is everywhere and peace is hard to find.

Were the angels wrong when they said that this Babe would bring peace to our world?  Absolutely not.

But, Jesus said that He did not come to bring “peace on earth”:

 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Matthew 10:34 and again,

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

Luke 12:51

In these verses, Jesus is saying that He did not bring peace to the earth!  This seems to be inconsistent with the angels’ message when He was born!  But, the angels were not wrong or misinformed and Jesus was not ignorant of His mission.  Quite the contrary.  He did bring peace, just not the kind of peace that the people expected.  The fact is that civil peace was not the purpose of the Babe’s birth.

In Matthew 10 and Luke 12, Jesus is talking about the dedication that following Him requires.  It is not a shallow “liking” nor is it simply a willingness to do good things. He is also forewarning His followers that there would be persecution and that they needed to remain strong in their faith and dedication to Him.  Indeed, following Him requires whole-hearted devotion, no matter what the cost, even if it involves persecution, even if it separates us from our family, even if it separates us from this life.

Matthew Poole, in his Commentary on the Bible, says this about Matthew 10:34-37:

Accidentally, through the corruption of men’s hearts, the consequent [result] of Christ’s coming into the world, and of his gospel coming into and prevailing in any part of the world, is (as Luke phrases it) “rather division”, which is here called a sword. Through men’s fondness of their idolatry, superstition, and lusts, and madness on them, their impatience of being outdone in religion and righteousness of conversation, the event [result] of Christ’s coming was division, wars, variances, … men taking up arms to compel all others to their idolatries and superstitions. And that natural antipathy [hatred] which men have to holiness, setting them at variance with [in opposition to] those who, embracing the gospel, live a life as becometh the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,… 

Jesus did bring peace.  It was His heavenly peace for those who accept Him as their Savior. 

Here are just a few of Jesus words giving His peace to His followers:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27

“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.”

John 16:33

What does this have to do with Christmas?  A great deal!  Civil peace is almost a fiction. Rather, the peace that our Lord brought was His peace, heavenly peace. It is the peace that allowed Jesus to willingly go to the cross, to experience excruciating pain and torture without retaliation, and even to forgive those who were mocking Him while they nailed Him to the cross.

For the believer, His peace is real … it is part of the fabric of our faith and it covers the believer even in times of great distress.  It may appear that Satan and his forces are winning the cosmic battle over the earth.  But this is only an illusion that Satan wants us to believe.  (Remember Job?  Satan had to get God’s permission to hurt him, all for God’s purposes of which Job was unaware.)

God, the Creator and Sustainer, the Almighty Immortal Sovereign Ruler is in control. Make no mistake — God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is in control.  He was in control when Satan had to get permission to act and He has not changed.  He sent Christ into this world to exhibit peace and to bring that peace to His people. 

The Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” expresses the despair that the conflict in our world brings but God is neither dead nor sleeping.  He did bring His peace into the world on Christmas Day, and He is still in control even 2,000 years later.  Listen to the carol as sung by the group Casting Crowns on their album Peace on Earth.

Christian, take heart.  Rely on Jesus Christ and His peace this Christmas and all year long.  He will give you grace to endure that which comes your way.  His grace was sufficient for the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9) and it is sufficient for us today.

Father, I bow at this time of the year and thank You for the Gift brought to us through Your grace and mercy in the birth of Jesus Christ.  When the sorrows of the world beset me, grant me the grace to rely on You in the sure confidence that even in times of difficulty, You are in control and I am in Your hand!

EVIDENCE OF FAITH

We need rain!  In East Tennessee we currently have multiple fires burning sending smoke into the air in a spreading blanket of contamination across the area.  While we have needed rain for several months, it was only of passing general interest.

I drafted this post before the air quality alerts went into effect and the need for significant rain became obvious on a daily basis.  The initial focus of the post is rain,  but its application relates to faith in all areas of our life.  May it be a blessing and a challenge to you, my dear Reader.

 

A friend sent me a modern parable that goes something like this:

It was especially dry, and the village needed water but no rain was in the offing.  In response to the situation, all the villagers decided to pray for rain.  On the day of prayer, all the people gathered and prayed, but only one boy came with an umbrella.  That’s FAITH.

This parable reminds me of an Old Testament story illustrating faith.  There had been no rain in the land as a judgment by God on the people and evil King Ahab, and this act of judgment was to be relieved only by Elijah’s word.  I Kings 17.  After winning the challenge between Baal and God on Mount Carmel, the people repented of their sin in going after other gods, and they said that the Lord would be their Lord.

Thus, the prophet prayed for relief from God’s judgment.  After petitioning God for rain, the following discourse occurred between Elijah and his servant.

And he [Elijah] said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he [the servant] went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he [Elijah] said, “Go again,” seven times.  And at the seventh time he [the servant] said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he [Elijah] said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.'”

1 Kings 18:43-44. 

rain-in-mississippi
A massive rain storm in Mississippi. Rain is visibly falling in several places as we were heading toward the storm.

Elijah sent his servant to look for the rain cloud … 7 times.  And, that 7th time the servant saw “a little cloud like a man’s hand”.  Although no rain had yet fallen, Elijah told the servant to go tell the king to get ready to run now, otherwise you will be stuck in the mud because of the rain.  That’s FAITH.

What is scriptural faith?  In the Bible, the writer of Hebrews describes faith as follows:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. … And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.

Hebrews 11:1, 6.

It is not faith in everything that comes along, nor is it a blind faith that has no foundation. Your faith is misplaced if you sit in a small plastic chair for it will collapse under the weight of a 250 pound person.  Clearly, the amount of your faith is not in question — you acted on your faith by physically sitting down.  The problem was that the object of your faith was seriously deficient. 

Faith in God, the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, the Lover of our souls, and the foundation of our salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord is the faith that provides peace, support, and salvation.  Faith alone in God, through Christ Jesus, is the path to eternal life.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

John 14:6.

Paul testified:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17.   Note, the King James Version of verse 17 uses the more familiar language “The just shall live by faith.”   The meaning of the two translations is the same – God justifies and declares us righteous through our faith in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2.

Jesus repeatedly told persons during His ministry that the faith of those He healed had made them well.  For example:

Jesus turned, and seeing her He said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Matthew 9:22

Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”

Matthew 9:29

And He said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17:19

These people had faith that Jesus could heal them, an event that had not occurred but was to be in the future.  Because of their faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, they were healed so that God would be glorified.  It was at that point that their faith became a reality.

So, when you pray, do you have faith that you will receive an answer to your prayer?  The answer may not come immediately, and it may not come in a form that you expect; but there will be an answer.  David understood that God would answer his prayer according to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

But as for me, my prayer is to You, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of Your steadfast love answer me in Your saving faithfulness.

Psalm 69:13

Praise God that He is faithful, that He abounds in steadfast love.  He is in control, He is the Almighty God, and He will respond to the prayer of faith in His time and in His way.

By the way, do you know where your umbrella is?

Father, I pray that I would have more faith so that I would be the one who brings the umbrella when prayers are raised up for rain.  I pray that my prayers would not just take up my time but that they would come before you in your majesty and power.  And, I pray that I would not be faint when the answer seems to be so long in coming; may I trust in your unfailing love and mercy and may I rest in your grace, through Christ my Savior I pray.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, No. 12 – PEACE part three.

 

PEACE – TRANQUILITY OF ORDER

PART THREE

 

We have been talking about the peace that the believer has in Jesus Christ through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

Now, I am going to ask a question –

 

  • Try to suppose for a moment that your religion has been withdrawn from you. In other words, try to conceive yourself without your faith, though in every other way you, and your circumstances, are unchanged.

 

Now – tell me,

  • Would you be appreciably the poorer?
  • Would anyone detect that something was different or that some secret thing had passed away?

 

What does Scripture say?

 

Rev. George Morrison, a pastor in London in the late 1800s asked these questions when he was preaching on Romans 15:13 where Paul says

 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” 

 

Rev. Morrison continued to ask his congregation:  “Do we go up and down the world with a glad peace because we believe in God through Jesus Christ?  It is to that that we are called, whatever our temperament or our lot.”

 

He recognized that the fruit of the Spirit is ours, “whatever our temperament or our lot” might be.  In other words, external circumstances do not control the existence of the fruit of the Spirit.  We HAVE the Holy Spirit within us and He desires to grow the fruit in our hearts.

 

So, if we are to go up and down the world with a glad peace because we believe in God through Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what does it look like?

 

It is not a peace I described at the beginning of this series that is based on our own efforts at trying to be peaceful.

 

In the The New Testament and Wycliffe Bible Commentary, we find the following regarding John 14:27:

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” 

Peace.  A frequent word in connection with farewells.  But this is a legacy rather than merely a conventional touch. …  My peace.  A distinctive brand of peace, different from that of the world, which would be panic-stricken at such an hour as this, with death so near.  The gift of his peace would make his followers unafraid, as he was. (cf. 16:33).

 

Here, the peace that is described in Scripture comes, as did joy, from the wellspring of Love for Jesus Christ and the Father.  Jonathan Edwards called Love the Sum of all Christianity.  If we do not have Love, we cannot have spiritual joy; and, we cannot have spiritual peace if we do not have joy.  They flow from each other and all stem from Love.

 

How does this apply to my daily life?

 

Dr. R. C. Sproul says that peace as a fruit of the Spirit means that we have a new capacity to live at peace with others and ourselves.   I can have this peace with myself and with others because, as the definition of peace explains, I rest in the wisdom and sovereignty of God more than in my own.

 

What does it look like?   Perhaps the language of Paul is instructive when he says in Ephesians 4:1-3 that we should walk in a “manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called … eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

 

We are unified with each other in the BOND OF PEACE.  This unity is referenced again in Colossians 3:15:

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful.”

 

In all honesty and fairness, I have to throw in a caveat here:  We must recognize that living in peace with others is the goal, but it is not always possible.  The writer of Hebrews recognized this and said:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14

 

In Romans 12:18 we read:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 

 

Should we seek peace with others at all costs?  No.  The Scripture says that we should be peaceable as far as it depends on us.  If there is something we can do to accomplish peace, we should do it.

 

But we must realize that just like it takes 2 to tango, it takes 2 to be at peace with each other.  We cannot force someone else to be at peace with us … that is their issue.  Just like forgiveness, we must forgive others … what they do with it is their business.

 

How should we guide our life to encourage the growth of the fruit of the Spirit of peace, I suggest Philippians 4:6-9 would be a great place to start:

 

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. 

 

Meditate on these verses as you listen to Integrity Music’s Scripture Memory Song entitled “Mediate on These Things.”

 

Amen, and amen.

 

My prayer is that you will allow the Holy Spirit to come into your life and touch your heart with His peace that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Don’t fret – your life in Christ is protected by the best guard you could ask for, the very Spirit of the Holy God.  That is peace!

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.  

 

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, No. 11, PEACE – TRANQUILITY OF ORDER

PEACE – TRANQUILITY OF ORDER

PART TWO

We have previously spoken of the peace, shalom, that we find in the Old Testament.  Now, let’s look at peace in the New Testament.

What does Scripture say?

Peace is a prominent feature of the Messiah – Jesus is called the Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9:6:

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The Greek word for peace, which is transliterated as eirēnē and pronounced ā-rā’-nā, is the word used by Paul in Galatians 5.  It has much the same meaning as Shalom has in the Old Testament.

  • The gospel of Christ is a message of peace from God to men.

In Acts 10:36 we read:

“As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, …” 

Paul says in Romans 5:1:

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

  • This peace is also between people, see for an example Ephesians 2 regarding Jews and Gentiles.

 

  • Further, this peace is an essential element in the spiritual kingdom of God

Romans 14:17 says:

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

 

  • Peace is to be cherished and followed by Christians. Jesus told His disciples:

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another”

Mark 9:50.

Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers:

“Live in peace: and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

2 Corinthians 13:11.

 

  • God is the God of Peace.

Paul says:

“May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. ”  

2 Thessalonians 3:16.

How can Paul say this?  He notes the basis for this prayer for peace is found in the nature of God Himself:

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”

1 Corinthians 14:33

 

  • Lastly, we have “peace” as a greeting. It was the Lord’s own greeting to His disciples as found in Luke 24:36 “Peace to you” and before He left them He gave them specially His blessing of “Peace” in John 14:27:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. “ 

 

Jesus well knew that He was the source of true peace.  But, there is a short caveat that must be raised here, and it refers to Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34-39 where He said that He did not come “to send peace on the earth, but a sword,” referring to the searching nature of His call and the divisions it would create.  In the Wycliffe Bible Commentary on the New Testament, we read the following regarding verse 34:

Jesus explains that his message, delivered in a rebellious and wicked world, would be met with hostility.  Sword: A symbol of sharp conflict and division, as shown by examples in verses 35-36.

 

Dr. R. C. Sproul says it this way in TableTalk Magazine, in an article entitled “Fearing the Right Person”:

However, though Christ brings the sword, He does not create the conflict. The peace Jesus offers comes on terms many refuse to accept. Strife comes not directly from the Lord’s hand, but from the response of secondary, human agents who hate Him and those who embrace the Gospel. Saying that He brings the sword is a Semitic way of attributing an indirect result of His mission to Himself even though He is not to blame for the outcome. Christ does not directly set family members against one another; those who reject the Lord are the culprits.  See Romans 9:19-20.

Of course, the spirit of the gospel and of the Christian is one of peace, and it is a Christian duty to seek to bring war and strife everywhere to an end. This is represented as the ultimate result of the gospel and Spirit of Christ; universal and permanent peace can come only as that Spirit rules in all men’s hearts.

 

How does this apply to my daily life?

 

When things seem to go flying out of control, you don’t need to panic or react in a frenzy.  Be at peace.  Slow down … let the dust settle while you seek the Lord and His guidance for you at that time.  You will have peace even when people around you go crazy because the Holy Spirit is within you and peace is one aspect of the fruit that He desires to grow in your life.  Let Him grace you with peace.

 

In his book entitled The Holiness of God, [Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 151] Dr. R. C. Sproul says:

In His last will and testament, Jesus left His heirs something else, something very special: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27)

This is the legacy of Christ: peaceIt is His peace that is our inheritance.  He gives the gift in a way that is different from gifts that are given in this world.  There are no ulterior motives and no sinister strings attached.  He give us His peace not for His benefit but for ours. It is an otherworldly gift given in an otherworldly manner. It is ours to keep forever.

 

This peace is referred to in the Old Testament as well, when the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 26:3:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” 

 

Listen to this verse as sung on Integrity Music’s Scripture Memory Songs album entitled Overcoming Anxiety.

 

 

Next week we will conclude our consideration of peace as a fruit of the Spirit.  Until then, ask the Spirit to give you His Peace even as you face difficult circumstances, and then spread that peace to those God puts in your path.

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.  

 

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, Post 10, PEACE – TRANQUILITY OF ORDER

PEACE – TRANQUILITY OF ORDER

PART ONE

For the most part, the world thinks of peace in negative terms such as the absence of hostility, or perhaps the absence of tension.  As with the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, the Biblical view of the term is quite different.

 

Augustine of Hippo defined peace as “The tranquility of order.”  In the context of this definition, he said there are three applications of this type of peace:

Peace with God – or the spiritual order

Peace on earth – or the relational order

Peace of God — or the psychological order.

 

What does Scripture say?

 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

Galatians 5:21-22.

 

Martin Luther said that the word “peace” in Galatians 5 means that the Christian is at peace with both God and man, Luther going further into how we should conduct ourselves, saying:

 

Christians are to be peaceful and quiet. Not argumentative, not hateful, but thoughtful and patient.

 

In his book, The Holiness of God, Dr. R. C. Sproul states:

 

For the Christian, the holy war is over: the peace has been established.  Access to the Father is ours.  But we still must tremble before our God.  He is still holy.  Our trembling is the tremor of awe and veneration, not the trembling of the coward or the pagan frightened by the rustling of a leaf.  Luther explained it this way: “We are to fear God not with a servile fear like that of a prisoner before his tormentor but as children who do not wish to displease their beloved Father.”  We come to Him in confidence; we come to Him in boldness; we have access.  We have a holy peace.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 153

 

Both the Greek and the Hebrew word for peace have the same meaning — confidence and rest in the wisdom and sovereignty of God more than in your own.   The opposite of peace is anxiety and worry.  The world’s counterfeit of true peace is indifference, or perhaps apathy, having an “I don’t care” attitude.

 

According to Strong’s Lexicon, there are a number of words in Hebrew that refer to peace and its various definitions.  The Hebrew word with which we are most familiar is, in English, shalom.

Image result for shalom

Its transliteration is shalowm and it is pronounced shä·lōm’.

 

This Hebrew word means:

  1. completeness, soundness, welfare, peace
    1. completeness (in number)
    2. safety, soundness (in body)
    3. welfare, health, prosperity
    4. peace, quiet, tranquility, contentment
    5. peace, friendship
  2. Shalom embodies the concept of completeness, wholeness, harmony and fulfillment. It is unimpaired relationship with God and man and fulfillment in one’s undertakings.    The source of Shalom peace is God.

 

Looking at its use in the Old Testament:

 

  • It referred to a condition of freedom from disturbance, whether outwardly, as of a nation from war or enemies, or inwardly, within the soul. To a people harassed by foes, peace was the primary blessing. In Psalm 122:7, shalom is translated “security” where it is said:

“Peace be within your walls and security within your towers.” 

 

  • Shalom was the common friendly greeting, used in asking after the health of anyone; also in farewells. Genesis 29:6 “He said to them, “Is it well with him?” They said, “It is well!” This phrase literally meaning “Is there peace to him?” This is again exampled in Judges 6:23 where Scripture says:

“But the Lord said to him, Peace be to you. Do not fear, you shall not die.”

 

  • Peace from enemies, thus implying prosperity, was the great desire of the nation and was the gift of God if the people walked in His ways. Aaron’s blessing to the people of Israel was dictated by the Lord and it is found in Numbers 6:24-26. We frequently hear it in benediction at the end of our worship:

The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

  • In Leviticus 26:6, God makes promises to the people of Israel for peace if they follow his laws:

“I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid.”

  • In Isaiah 26:3-4 we have the promise:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” 

This verse actually says in the Hebrew: “you keep him in peace peace
whose mind is stayed on you”.  Also note the reason for this peace, in verse 4 we read the Lord God is an everlasting rock.  Talk about a good foundation for peace!

How does this apply to my daily life?

We certainly are not done considering peace and what it means as a part of the fruit of the Spirit that indwells the believer.  But for now, I would ask that you read the Bible references above in your own Bible, translations and paraphrases.

 

  • Consider what the Old Testament people desired for peace and what God says will come if they obey His commands.

 

  • Consider what you desire for peace and how it might reveal itself in your life through the Holy Spirit.

 

  • Consider having peace peace … perfect peace. Let this thought comfort you during this week. Ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to do this, even before we go into consideration of peace in the New Testament.

 

Here, Damaris sings the song “I Sing Peace” taken from her album The Heart of God.  Enjoy listening to her as you consider having perfect peace this week.

 

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.  

WATER – POWER HIDDEN IN TRANQUILITY

Certain scenes evoke a sense of rest and peace for me. One such picture is this view, captured by my Beloved, of an Oregon lake with the mountains mirrored in its reflection.

Mirror lake (C)
A lake in Oregon that looked like a mirror image.

Or this scene of Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills of North Dakota taken many years ago while I was on vacation with my parents.

 

Sylvan Lake, Black Hills, ND (C)
Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills of North Dakota

 

We are, of course, aware that water is not always absolutely still at the surface, and if they were totally still, they would be stagnant. There are the rippling sounds of the woodland waters as they slide over and around the rocks and stumps in their way.

Rapids in stream (C)
Rapids in the woodland stream.

With the right conditions, a stream can become a whitewater rapids. Also, there is the ocean with its rhythmical tossing of waves along the shore, a sound that many of us love to hear when we go to sleep.

Power hidden in tranquility.

Water can be extraordinarily powerful when drops of water combine along their way and, together, they plummet over a rocky edge to fall, sometimes, hundreds of feet to the bottom.

One of the majestic waterfalls in Yosemite National Park illustrates a waterfalls that is not only beautiful but which is, quite literally, capable of rearranging the earth’s surface.

Yosemite majestic waterfalls (C)
Majestic Yosemite Waterfalls

 

While water and its need by humanity is universally known and while death will surely come if there is no rain or fresh water, we in our arrogance often ignore our dependence on God for our water.

This fact is reiterated in the Old Testament where Scripture tells us in Genesis 7 that God sent rain for 40 days and 40 nights, saving only Noah, his family and animals in the ark.

In Exodus we have the story of Moses seeking the release of God’s people from Pharaoh. Convincing Pharaoh required multiple plagues including one of rain, thunder and hail. Pharaoh said he would let the people go if God would stop the hammering hail and rain and in Exodus 9:33 we read:

So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh and stretched out his hands to the LORD, and the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured upon the earth.

Of course, we know from the next passages in Exodus that Pharaoh again changed his mind, ultimately letting the people go only after death entered the country and all the first born sons died in one night.

King Ahab, also, had to learn the hard way that God is in control over ALL things, even rain. In 1 Kings 17:1 Elijah the prophet tells Ahab:

As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.

While it is the very next chapter in the Book of First Kings, from a chronological standpoint, three years had passed since this statement by Elijah. No rain or dew for three, dry, long years. Imagine the condition of the vegetation, animals and countryside, let alone the condition of the people after going three years without rain. Then, in 1 Kings 18:1, the Lord puts the exclamation point on his lesson for Ahab:

After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.”

Jesus said, in Matthew 5:45, that:

God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

The source of water is, simply put, our Sovereign God.

Water that we need for our physical survival is provided for us by God. We cannot make it rain when we want it to do so. God is in control.  He is sovereign. His will reigns and nothing will stop it from occurring as He decrees.

We may think that God is tranquil, that He is not doing anything so we don’t need to worry about Him as He is not a force that we need to reckon with.

Don’t be deceived. God is active in our world today, just as He was thousands of years ago. In Micah 6:8, God stated what mankind needs to do and there will be judgment if we do not do so.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

This judgment may not occur on earth, but rest assured it will occur at the end of time, because sin cannot go unpunished by a Holy God.

Isaiah fell on his face when he saw the vision of God seated on the throne.

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Isaiah 6:5.

Isaiah instantly recognized that he was unclean and could not be before the Holy God in his sinful condition. God’s power may be hidden in seeming tranquility now, but it will be unleashed one day.

  • Do we really have an accurate understanding of who we are and Who God is?
  • Do we even begin to comprehend how all-encompassing our omniscient, omnipotent Sovereign is?
  • Do we even recognize how arrogant we are when we think that we have it in our power to control anything, let alone that which is required for our survival!
  • Do we comprehend how sinful and dirty we are when compared to the holiness of our God? Even our good deeds fail to merit attention … all our deeds are as filthy rags. See Isaiah 64:4.

Do I live my life in humble recognition that our loving God, who sent His Son for our salvation and who sent His Holy Spirit to be with us and to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ, our Savior, is the Almighty, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Sovereign God of the Universe?  Do you so live?

Do we bow in submission and thankfulness for His Power, Mercy and Grace toward us?  Do we give Him our life, daily?

We should!

 

Father, forgive me when I have gone my own way and have ignored You and Your Word. Forgive me when I have forgotten Who You are and when I have failed to give You all honor and glory. Forgive me when I have failed to yield my life, daily, to You. Cleanse me and enable me to have the will and the power to live so that Jesus is the One who lives through me, all to Your glory, through Jesus Christ my Lord!

NEED TO REFOCUS?

Christmas village that is out of focus
Christmas village that is out of focus

 

The day after Christmas I went to a physical therapy session — not exactly what I wanted to do that day! But I had scheduled it this way so I was going to the appointment. I was waiting for the elevator when the doors opened and I joined others on our trip up to the therapist.  I was in a bad mood since this appointment was interrupting my holiday time with the family, but I was doing it — not smiling about it though!  I was walking with an ankle brace and a cane and was in my second month of physical therapy after severely breaking my ankle four months earlier.

The young man who exited at the second floor with me was walking on two prosthetic legs with a cane for help. My first thought was that he was a Wounded Warrior, a subject dear to me as our son is active military with the Marine Corps. However, as we were waiting to be called in for PT, several of us in the waiting area spoke together and I learned that he lost his legs in an employment-related electrical event eight years earlier. Indeed, he smiled at me and said that it was no one’s “fault”, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Just then we were both called back for PT and I thought our conversing was over. However, we were placed in the same area and I had occasion to observe his work, his effort and his dedication to rehabilitating to a normal that most of us take for granted and, I dare say, which most of us do not truly appreciate.

 

Therapeutic rocker board
Therapeutic rocker board

We both used the same tilt board which previously had been a painful obstacle that I did not want to tackle. It looks easy but I found it difficult, tiring and just pain hard.  After watching him struggle to conquer it, I was humbled and contrite as the therapist put it in front of me, smiling as she said “here is your favorite toy!” Complaining about the challenge of this device was nowhere in my thought that day. I wanted to do my best, without complaining, as this young man had done moments before.

Perhaps this encounter was particularly potent given the timing, coming immediately after Christmas which always involves reflecting about our Lord and His birth and sacrifice for us, about family and the various relationships that we have in our family as well as with others in our circles of involvement. But I find myself pondering whether we recognize how blessed we are in so many ways, especially in ways that we don’t even think of as blessings from our Lord and Savior. The very air that we breathe comes from Him. We are created so that systems which are required for living are automatic, like breathing, our heart beating, our brain functioning, and of course physical healing.

With these blessings, however, come obligations. One is Focus.

Focused attention
Focused attention

There is certainly a time for focused attention to a problem, an issue of concern, or even a rock (if you are a budding paleontologist).  However, when we are focused solely on ourselves and our problems, everything else is out of focus. We need to look at the long view, not the myopic view that is so prevalent in our society today.

 

Difficult to keep your focus sometimes
Sometimes focus is hard!

In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus taught that the one to whom the Kingdom of God will be open is the one who helps others: the one who feeds the hungry; who provides water to those who are parched; who takes in the stranger; who provides clothes for the naked; the one who visited the sick; the one who visited the prisoner.   These acts are not the “Salvation silver bullet”.   Indeed, when these things are done in our own strength, they are done so that we get the glory, so that we get our name in lights, so that we receive accolades.

Rather, these things reflect a life-style that puts others first, a life-style that addresses the needs and cares of the marginalized and those who are ignored by society. In short, it is a life-style that Jesus Christ exampled for His disciples and it is a life-style that can only be lived by the Christian. It is a life-style that desires glory for God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and this can only come when the Holy Spirit in-dwells the Christian.

On that day, I was acutely aware that while the broken ankle was difficult for me and for my beloved husband who had to do much for me during this time, I know that it is healing and that I  can walk and am not confined to the wheelchair.   My co-patient today was alive and able to live a normal life while many others who encounter an “electrical event” are not able to do so. He, also, knew that he is healing and, although it is a “new normal”, he is able to live and enjoy life and mobility given his prosthetic limbs. He is seeking to walk and move more confidently with his new legs.

I don’t know if the young man in physical therapy was a Christian or not. I do know that he and his actions spoke to me and reminded me that I need to get my focus back on others as the Lord directs.

Now, I am facing surgery on my knees – another time when it would be easy to focus on the me/my/mine of problems. Again I pray that I would be focused so that, even in the time for rehab and recovery, I will be praising my Lord and Savior and that I will be a blessing to others in the name of my Lord.

Focus – sometimes it is hard, but it is always worth it!

WHO IS HOLDING YOUR HAND?

Church in Cades Cove, Tennessee
Church in Cades Cove, Tennessee

There was a song that we sang in my home church when I was a child and the words went something like this:

I don’t know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to grey.
I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said.
And today I’ll walk beside Him,
For He knows what is ahead.

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know Who holds tomorrow
And I know Who holds my hand.

I believe the title of the song is “I know who holds my hand”. I have tried to find out who authored the lyrics to give credit where credit is due and all I have come up with is “unknown” as the author. I don’t remember the words to the rest of the song, but I know that the part I have quoted has been part of my being for many decades and has provided peace and comfort through its text.

My parents and me
My parents and me

So – Who holds my hand? My parents held my hands and took me to church, telling me of God, of Jesus and His love. But, both of them are now gone. Now, my loving husband holds my hand, but he, like I, cannot know what tomorrow may bring.

In our fallen, sin-sick world, there are times when situations come upon you that stun you into complete silence. Circumstances arise that you could not have imagined, and, if you had been told of them before they actually happened, you would have vehemently denied that such an event would even be possible!
But then it happens, and what was formerly unthinkable becomes not only possible but fact, and you are left with shambles in your hands, a hole in your heart, and confusion reigning in your mind.

U.S. Marines at the Barracks, Washington D. C.
U.S. Marines at the Barracks, Washington D. C.

One such situation arose in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Thursday, July 16, when a gunman drove to a recruiting office and started shooting through the windows; he then drove to a Marine Reserve Center and started shooting, ruthlessly taking the lives of four members of the United States Marine Corps, one member of the U. S. Navy, and injuring a number of others before he was stopped by the Chattanooga Police. Men who defended our country in war overseas were gunned down in their own country.

U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, Washington, D.C.
U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, Washington, D.C.

They didn’t know when they left home for work that morning that it would be their last day on earth. Their families didn’t know that they were about to lose a beloved member of the family. Chattanooga didn’t know that the city would be rocked by the act of a shooter who killed indiscriminately that morning.

As we watched the news about Chattanooga, the similarity to the news from Charleston, South Carolina came to mind as we remembered the carnage at the Mother Emanuel Church just a few weeks ago.  Nothing can prepare you for such an event.   It was unthinkable until we had to face the fact that it was, indeed, a reality.

Empty platitudes are insufficient to offer a balm or salve for hearts that are ripped open by grief.   As we try to recover from the shock and enormity of the carnage, we must remember all the promises that we have in Scripture through the grace and mercy of our God and Father.

Who holds my hand? Who can give solace and peace when things fall apart? Who is Strength, Comfort and Everlasting Love?

It is my God, my Savior and my Comforter.

  • God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
    • Old Testament: God is not limited in time, as are we. Indeed, He is the perpetual I AM. See Exodus 3:13 where God tells Moses that I AM is directing Moses to lead the people out of Egypt.
    • New Testament: This thought is reiterated in Hebrews 13:8 where we read: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”
  • God is the lover of my soul.
    • Old Testament: Isaiah 38:17 reads: “Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.”
    • New Testament: Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
  • God is also my Redeemer and my Savior.
    • Old Testament:
      • Job 19:25 says: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth….”
      • Isaiah 48:17 says: “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.’”
    • New Testament:
      • Paul says in Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
      • John 3:14-16: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
      • John 6:35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”

So, where do you draw your strength and comfort in difficult times? We who are Christians are called to be strength and comfort to those who are grieving, hurt and distressed.  We are to be the hands and feet of Christ as we live out our faith to others, especially during difficult times like these.  We can pray for them, comfort them, and provide assistance because even the routine things will be difficult for the families who have had their lives disrupted in such a brutal way. This is not to minimize the tragedy at all, but ultimately, the best thing we can do is to point them to Jesus Christ who is the Source of real comfort and peace here and forever more..

So, Who is holding your hand?

WHERE IS THE PEACE?

Our world is so frenetic, we often feel that we are penned in by so many obligations that there is no way out. We have the calendar calling our name when the alarm rings in the morning. We have the cell phone buzzing to tell us people need our viewpoints immediately, whether we are ready or not. We have the children calling for our attention even as we are trying to work or fix breakfast. We have our spouse who seeks our attention even as we are preparing the evening meal. We have the iPod clanging that we have new emails that have not yet been read, and when we break into our activity to attend to the emails we find that they are advertisements for products we don’t need. The telephone distracts our attention with a recorded message for the politician or for the survey that some marketing company wants. Then there are the charities that call, the handicapped, the symphony, the church, the various ministries that we support … EVERYONE wants our attention on a daily, hourly, minutely basis! Peace is a desired characteristic of our daily, personal life but it often seems to be an illusion of the highest order in the reality of daily duties.

But then the news wreaks havoc on any semblance of peace that may otherwise have survived the daily distractions. Something extraordinary is subject of “Breaking News” and our mundane disturbances are brought into sharp focus as being what they are, relatively minor inconveniences.

Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC
Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC

Indeed, we have become aware of such “Breaking News” this past week when hatred interrupted a prayer service by barging into the walls of a beautiful, historic church in Charleston, South Carolina when a gunman opened fire and killed nine innocent people.   (Picture of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, taken from the church website.)

Because of the cell phone videos and the media coverage swarming the area, we who are miles away from the scene participate in the shock and sickening disgust at the carnage the actions of a lone gunman can cause. The actions were particularly malevolent given the place in which they occurred; the sanctuary of a church where people go to pray and seek solace from God and their brothers and sisters in the Faith. Such evil is almost impossible for us to contemplate.

Clearly chaos was released into that building that day. But, the gunman’s actions did not kill Christ’s peace notwithstanding the havoc wreaked on the victims’ physical bodies. The Spirit of peace, of love and of forgiveness was brought into dramatic contrast to the spirit of evil when the victims’ families told the gunman that, despite their profound grief, they forgave him and were praying for his soul.

Such love and peace is impossible on our own. Jesus commanded that love was to be the primary characteristic of His people. John 13:35. The Apostle John said:

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

I John 4:16.

Jesus further instructed that He would give peace, even in times of extreme distress. One such time recorded in Scripture was when Jesus told His disciples of His imminent betrayal, trial and crucifixion. Needless to say, His disciples were confused and afraid.

After telling them that He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to them, He said:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:17.

Then just before His crucifixion, Jesus told them:

“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.” John 16:33.

Easter Empty Tomb Depicted at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England
Easter Empty Tomb Depicted at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

The empty tomb is evidence that death has been overcome; Satan and evil have lost the cosmic war. Although in the short-term it may seem that evil is winning the contest, Jesus is the final victor. In other words, no matter what happens, we can have peace because, as He promised in John 16:33, He has overcome the world, including the evil therein!

Without a doubt, hatred won the headline for the day – but, those believers who were praying at the time of the shooting won the war.  Through Christ, they were victorious over evil on that dark day in Charleston.  They are with their Savior and are beyond any pain, tears or grief.

Because Jesus has overcome evil and death, His believers can have peace …

  • a peace that is resident within them through His Holy Spirit;
  • a peace that overcomes the evil in the world;
  • a peace that enables the victims’ families to forgive in the midst of their grief;
  • a peace that is truly beyond understanding. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7.

This peace was on display when the victims’ families expressed love and forgiveness for the one who had inflicted this unutterable loss on them.  No one was hiding their grief — this peace was transcendent over their grief.  This is the peace that is available to all who believe on Jesus’ Name and repent from their sins, accepting Him as their Savior.

Do you have this peace?