PEACE – WHERE IS IT?

Peace is hard to find in our 24/7 world today. But, thankfully, there are places that just seem to facilitate the sense of PEACE! Stay awhile, enjoy the scene, relax, rest, be at peace with yourself and with your God. This river and mountain view in Alaska was one of the peaceful moments in a crazy, stress-filled week.

Peace is a difficult word to define. For some, it is the absence of conflict, a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended.. For others, it is akin to rest, where there is tranquility and calm. The Hebrew word for “peace” is , šālôm, translated in the Septuagint most often by the Greek word, eirēnē. It has a broad semantic range of meaning, including the concept of completeness or the totality of something. It also connotes success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well being.

Scripture says this about peace:

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.

Isaiah 26:3-4

It is interesting to note that these words from the prophet Isaiah came while he was issuing oracles against the people because of their transgressions and failure to follow the commandments of God. In fact, in chapter 24 the prophet, speaking the words of God, pronounces judgment on the whole earth. In the midst of these judgments, we find words that promise peace.

Jesus frequently addressed the disciples in thisohn way. For example:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” … Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

John 20: 19, 21

The Apostle Paul opened most of his letters with the greeting “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:3

The Apostle Peter expressed the same sentiment when he wrote: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.: 2 Peter 1:2

Peace — it is something that most of us long for and something that very few possess. We know that during the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, tensions are at fever pitch. Many of us are out of work. Many of us have lost our income and we don’t have enough funds to feed the family, or cover the rent. Many of us see no way out of the problems that loom over us each moment of every day.

Jesus never said that His disciples would have an easy time of things. Indeed, we know that each one of the Apostles endured extreme hardship, most of them being killed in gruesome ways. Yet, even in those horrendous days of hardship and torture, they had peace. An inspiring example is found in the pages of Scripture describing the first martyr for Jesus – Stephen. In Acts 6, we are told that Stephen was doing wonders and signs among the people, and that he was a a man who was full of grace and power.

This was too much for the establishment. They wanted rid of Stephen. Acts 6:10. Stephen detailed the message of God to the Hebrews through the centuries and he ended his statement with condemnation of the very people who were charging him. Here is the end of Acts 7 beginning with Stephen’s statement and then the response of the people, Acts 7:52-60.

“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.
Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:52-60

Stephen had peace – the peace that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is now sitting at the right hand of God, interceding for each of His children. Stephen’s peace was so great that he forgave the very men who were stoning him, including one Saul who was a young man guarding the coats of the men executing Stephen.

Peace can also be found in the security of mountains, the strength of the granite rocks, the beauty of God’s creation.

Characterizing God as a Rock is common in the Old Testament. The clear symbolism is that God cannot be moved, He is strong, He is the Source of all comfort and assurance. David says it this way in Psalm 18:2:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 18:2

Beloved, don’t depend on your own strength, your own resources, your own understanding to get through these times. Look to God, the God who is above all gods, the God who is the Almighty Father and the One who desires to become your Rock, your Fortress, your Stronghold in days of trouble.

Father, forgive me when I run ahead and try to take care of things my own way! Help me to stop and look to You as the author of my salvation and as the lover of my soul. Enable me to see Your Hand in my situation and to rely on You even when things are dark and difficult.

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!

BUT IT’S TOO BIG!

Do you ever have the feeling that some task or calling is too big for you? It just doesn’t fit … it’s just too big! (This chair was at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum during our visit in 2011 — incredible craftsmanship!)

Huge Rocking Chair at Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum
Huge Rocking Chair at Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum

I can’t climb it, I can’t see my way around it … it’s just too big!

I can’t cross it – it is too big! [Picture of river and flora in Cumberland County, Tennessee]

Rocks and flora in Cumberland County, Tennessee
Rocks and flora in Cumberland County, Tennessee

It asks for skills that I don’t have; I don’t know how to do this task; I am not equipped to handle it. If it were smaller, maybe then I could do it, but this is … well it is just too big!  (Picture below was taken in Yosemite National Park)

View from mountains in Yosemite National Park
View from mountains in Yosemite National Park

Have you ever said: “Lord, you must be thinking of someone else! You can’t possibly be asking me to do this! I’m not smart enough, not strong enough, not ready for such a challenge! I love you, Lord, and I want to serve You, but I can’t do what You are asking! It’s too big for me!”

Moses said the same thing when God spoke to him out of the burning bush, recorded for us in the Bible at Exodus Chapter 3.   [I confess that the pictures that follow are not of the wilderness facing Moses when this conversation occurred. They are taken in The Badlands National Park in South Dakota; but when I think of a wilderness, this is what I envision.]

Badlands towering ahead.
Badlands towering ahead.

God tells Moses what He wants him to do, and Moses’ response might be in different words but the meaning is all too familiar to us because we say the modern equivalent when God directs us to do something that is out of our comfort zone:

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:11

God reiterates the fact that He will be with Moses all along the way.

Badlands stretch forever
Badlands stretch forever

The conversation continues and Moses says:

“But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you. ‘” Exodus 4:1

God shows His power to Moses to confirm that this was, indeed, what Moses was to do and that He was who He said. Notwithstanding God’s patience in this conversation, Moses responds with yet another objection:

“But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.’” Exodus 4:10.

The Lord’s response is that He is fully aware of Moses’s abilities, skills and nature – and He wanted Moses to do this work notwithstanding those shortcomings.

 “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.’” Exodus 4:11-12.

Badlands are formidable.
Badlands are formidable.

Moses’s options seem to have evaporated – left with nothing else to argue, he gave his final plea in opposition to God’s demand:

“But he said, ‘Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.’ …” Exodus 4:13.

We really aren’t any different than Moses, are we? When an assignment appears insurmountable, we balk, make excuses, plead that the job be given to another, and then pout.

It is as if we were standing before God and stomping our spiritual feet, just like toddlers, while we are saying “I don’t want to!”

Beloved, God is the same today as He was thousands of years ago when He directed Moses to bring His people out of Egypt. When he assigns a job for you to do, even if it is bigger than anything you had ever done, He will prepare you and strengthen you so that the assignment will be done according to His plan.

Consider Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah Chapter 6. When Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon His throne, Isaiah was confronted with the power, majesty and holiness of God and with that came an immediate recognition of how sinful he was:

“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

God did not leave him in that condition, however – a seraphim touched his lips with a burning coal from the altar and said that his guilt was taken away and his sin atoned for. Isaiah 6:7   Then, God said:

“Whom shall I send and who will go for us?”

Now that he had been cleansed and his sin removed, Isaiah was able to respond to God’s inquiry with no objections, no excuses, no stalling, no stomping his feet – he simply said:

“Here I am! Send me.” Isaiah 6:8.

When we are tasked with something outside our comfort zone or beyond what we think our abilities are, we must trust God to give us the words, to give us the physical strength, and to give us the wisdom necessary to accomplish His purposes in the work at hand. In short, we must trust that the Holy Spirit will work through us to accomplish things of eternal consequence which we, in our own strength, could not comprehend.

So, is there something too big for you to handle staring you in the face? Has God directed that you undertake some task and you are balking at the assignment? Do you want to pull the spiritual covers over your head and pretend God didn’t really ask you to do that thing?

Trust Him. Ask for forgiveness for your stubborn pride, for your refusal to believe that He is able to work through you in this circumstance, for your spirit of laziness in refusing to undertake the project … you can add whatever else is appropriate. Then, be a 21st century Isaiah and respond “Here I am. Send me.”

The job is not “too big” – in fact, it is “just right” when God is in it with you.

Father, May we be modern day Isaiahs! May we hear your call and respond “Here I am Lord. Send me.” May You bless us as we travel our spiritual path in Your Strength, Father, and may we, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, as given to us through Your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ, be effective in serving as You direct and enable.

PERSPECTIVE: FROM MICRO TO MACRO

We happened to be in England when rapeseed was in full bloom. As we left the airport we were told to watch for the “yellow fields” because they were so pretty. We saw the yellow plants as we sped (literally) down the motorway.

Rapeseed field from highway
Rapeseed field from highway

Pretty? Sure, but not necessarily spectacular as we were led to expect.

But then – Oh, but then, we went up a hill and saw the countryside splayed below us, and the “yellow fields” were gorgeous! Only by looking at the overall broad picture could we appreciate the beauty of these fields in full bloom. The patchwork of yellow blossoms, trees bordering the various parcels of land, fields plowed with crops just starting to grow, and homesteads with trees providing shade all melded together to form a mural that made a lasting impression on my mind and heart.

Yellow fields and hillside
Yellow fields and hillside

 

As we were looking at this vista, I could not help but think of the perspective that we usually have. We get lost in the detail of every-day life – bills to pay, work deadlines to meet, housecleaning, laundry, children’s activities to watch, etc.

mirror and child (C)

To quote an old adage, sometimes “we can’t see the forest because of the trees!”

We live moment-to-moment because we were created, in time ‐‐ without the ability to transcend that which is immediately upon us. God, however, has a far different perspective.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes 7:14 says:

“In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.”

As the creator of time, God is not controlled by it. He sees the end from the beginning, and He sees all that is in between with perfect clarity. While we do not know the future, we can rest in the confidence that He does! In Psalm 139:16 we read:

 “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

God had our days numbered and the events in them mapped out for our growth in faith and trust in His unfailing love – for the fulfillment of His purposes and for His glory – even before we were born!

We cannot live above the daily grind. As long as we are capable of movement and activity, we will be cleaning homes, watching after the children, doing the laundry, working at our jobs, cooking meals (and even yummy desserts), etc.

Yummy Dessert
Yummy Dessert

We can, however, live above the circumstances by knowing that God is in control and that He knows what we need for our own spiritual benefit. God sees the pattern of our life and how it interacts with the lives of thousands of others – a pattern that we cannot see because we don’t have His perspective.

Next time you are down because of the demands of all the activities pressing upon you, change your perspective.

Stop and visualize the yellow fields from above.

English fields of Rapeseed
English fields of Rapeseed

Or picture your town sparkling in the evening light as you stand on a mountain top.

City in evening with lights illuminated
City in evening with lights illuminated

Or visualize standing on a sand dune, gazing out over the vast ocean.

Standing on sand dune looking at ocean waves
Standing on sand dune looking at ocean waves

Or visualize the power and majesty of our Creator God, at least as we can see and understand it in our finite minds.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

May I always take time to praise our Sovereign God for His provision of a perspective that is slightly altered from what I can usually see, a perspective that enables me to remember that the big picture belongs to Him.  May my perspective be changed from the micro of every day to the macro of His divine majesty.

He is the Divine Artist Who creates the pattern of each of our lives, all for His glory and honor.  Praise His holy name for His promises and perspective!

                                              

THE ROCK

Many of us have heard the old hymn, Rock of Ages, and we probably also have heard the description of Jesus Christ as the “Rock of Ages”. Further, we likely have heard preachers compare Jesus to being our Foundation, Security and Surety. Those concepts are surely accurate, but they are lofty and sometimes hard to think of in real terms that we can touch and feel.

We were in England and visited Stonehenge – now there were some rocks, and big ones too. It was so hard to imagine how the people created this monument with such immense stones. They are truly “solid rocks”.

Stonehenge 5 (C)  Stonehenge 11 (C)

But then, when we were in Yosemite National Park, we saw a physical illustration of a Rock of Ages!

Yosemite 2011 WRM 133 (C)

El Capitan is a peak that rises 7,569 feet high in the Sierra Nevada range of central California in Yosemite National Park. Its exposed monolith rises 3,600 feet above the valley floor.

Yosemite El Capitan 6-2011 069 (C)

El Capitan ‐‐ according to the National Park Service, El Capitan is the largest monolith of granite in the world! “Capitan” is Spanish for “Captain”. The monolith is awesome in its scope, size, power and strength!

If we are Christians, our Captain is Jesus Christ, upon whom our hope is built. He is our Rock, and He will provide us the strength and ability to stand when the storm comes. He will preserve the believer even if all may desert him/her, and He will preserve us from that supreme disquiet that attends fear, anxiety and worry.

Christ’s comforts will not fail; they will be the believer’s strength and song; and they are the believer’s an anchor of his soul, sure and steadfast, in this life and the next.   The Apostle Paul says it this way:

 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me – the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7‐8. [New Living Translation]

The Christian life is certainly not without difficulties, in fact, Jesus promised that we would have problems and trials. But, we can stand on the Rock and know that, whatever buffets us in life, nothing can take us away from our Captain.

 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38 [New International Translation]

When the believer comes to the last moment of life, our hope in Christ will remove both the terror of death and the power of the grave. Christ will carry the believer, covered in the blood and righteousness of Christ, to God the Father where the believer will be accepted by God and given life eternal.

Praise Him, our Rock, Captain, Redeemer and Savior, now and forevermore!