The Peace Of Christ


The peace of Christ is more significant than I once thought. For one thing it is unique to Christians, which of course makes it hard to explain to those who don’t believe in God. They undoubtedly think Christians are making something up or imagining it or tapping into that “religious” part of the brain.

Actually the peace of Christ is a real thing. That’s why a member of my church who endured an illness that caused chronic pain can write the following:

In the midst of God’s response to my pain, my identity as His child is confirmed. Who am I in this pain? I am a son of the Father! One of the deepest and most influential of relationships (a father to a son) is witnessed to and I am reminded in my soul that I am not alone, abandoned, and neglected in my pain, but I am a privileged son being trained by a loving Father. It this presence of the Father that keeps me leaning forward as I endure through storms. (James Hampson, First Evangelical Free Church devotional, Ears to Hear, 11/16/17)

Do Christians always walk in light of our relationship with Christ? No, most of us will admit we don’t. We want to, but the reality is, times of doubt and disappointment and even despair can cloud our vision. In those times it’s a great help to hear from other believers who have persevered, or to read something in Scripture that reminds us we’re not alone or that God is indeed faithful to His promises.

Interestingly, the peace of Christ is most important during the storms of life. When everything is going smoothly, we aren’t as aware of a need for the peace of Christ. We aren’t thinking, “I have this great job, and I get along so well with my co-workers and my boss. How stressful! I can’t stop thinking about work!” Or it’s unlikely that we’re ringing our hands when our children receive academic awards in school, make the basketball team, bring their friends over to the house so we can meet them, ask for a new Bible to replace the one that’s starting to look beat up. Such children are hardly the cause of sleepless nights.

In other words, the circumstances that are themselves peaceful, don’t require anything special. Who wouldn’t be satisfied with a fulfilling job that pays well and gives you lots of respect from your peers? That situation does not “require” the peace of God to get through it.

What requires the peace of Christ are the circumstances that would normally leave us depleted and clenching our fists. In those circumstances, when we’re scrambling for ways to cope, the peace of Christ can be the life preserver that keeps us from drowning.

Paul said in one of his letters, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . .” I conclude from that statement that the peace of Christ isn’t something imposed from outside, but it’s something I can choose to govern my life.

However, Paul also said in Galatians that peace is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. Of course he also told Christians not to quench the Spirit. So even though the peace of Christ is kind of supernatural, it’s still something we can choose.

In other words, “the peace that surpasses comprehension” is available to believers—from God, for us.

But how? Paul again:

Be anxious for nothing, 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The first thing is prayer. When we turn our needs over to God, we can trust Him to take care of them in His time and for His purposes and how He chooses. He is a good father and will not give us a scorpion if we ask for a plate of fish.

The second thing is to give God thanks, which acknowledges His involvement in our circumstances even when we can’t see them. I’ve been reminded from Scripture that so often God is at work even when we can’t see what He’s doing.

An account in the Bible tells of a siege against a certain city in Israel, causing a severe famine. All looked hopeless, but a man of God went to the king and told him that the next day food would be so plentiful, the prices of things that weren’t even currently available would be so low anyone could afford them. One of the king’s officials mocked the idea. What he didn’t know was what God was doing in the enemy camp—causing them to flee and to leave all their rations behind.

Giving thanks to God, even when the circumstances don’t seem to be changed, reinforces our trust in God’s plan and in His timetable and in the fact that He will give us only good. Not necessarily the thing that seems good to us as we look at the short term. But good. Really good. The very thing we need to make us more like Jesus Christ.

Which reminds me of something interesting I recently learned about writing fiction. One way to create a story, one instructor says, is to identify the lie your character believes. He builds upon the lie what he wants. So he might think that fame and fortune will make him happy, so what does he want? A job that requires him to work nights, to schmooze with the rich and famous. But what does he actually need to make him happy? A healthy relationship with his wife and kids. His pursuit of fame and fortune, for the sake of happiness, is actually robbing him of the very thing he truly needs to be happy.

Just as the writer knows this about his characters, God knows this about us.

Our giving Him thanks in the midst of tough times is really a statement of trust. God’s got it. He’s got us. He’ll work even these circumstances for the good of conforming us to the image of His Son. And in this knowledge, there is peace.

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Hope And The Here And Now – Reprise


westcoast sunsetWhile I acknowledge that this world is filled with disappointment, I also recognize the beauty of God’s handiwork. Yes, there is sadness, but there are also joys. People get married, and babies come into the world. People get promotions and book deals and raises. People go on vacation and spend an evening with friends.

There are so many joys, I can’t help but be hopeful about today.

There are friends, too, bringing laughter and acceptance and companionship. How about family and loved ones—people who don’t care what our hair looks like in the morning and aren’t afraid to tell us if something is hanging from our nose. They love us in such everyday ways we sometimes overlook them, but when we list what we’re thankful for, they come to mind first.

snow_road-winter-xsYes, the joys and the people are part of God’s handiwork, but of course the natural world can’t be left out. Which of the beautiful things tops the list—the white-capped Rockies, the sunset over the Pacific, the snow-dressed forest, the green and golden fields, the woods clothed in autumn finery, the dew-kissed rose, the yellow-breasted song bird . . . the list is endless.

Joy, people, creation. God’s fingerprints are everywhere, and each one brings hope. If things are this good today, can’t tomorrow be just as good? Or better?

The greatest present hope is God Himself. The amazing truth is that God IS, though all else fails. God is the greatest treasure, so I may be poor in this world’s estimation, but if I have Jesus, I am rich. I may mourn, but joy comes in the morning. I may feel defeated, but Christ is the victor. I may be grieving, but not without hope.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19a)

God, in His great mercy, gives us memorials so that we don’t lose sight of hope. He gives us sun after the rain, spring after winter. He gives us comfort in the midst of sorrow, kindness from unexpected places.

He tells us to remember Him in the broken bread and shared cup at Communion. He established His Church as the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” He gave us the Lord’s Day and reminded us to continue gathering together then.

He gave us His word that is sharper than any two-edged sword—the perfect weapon against the false teaching our adversary throws at us. He taught us to pray and gives His Holy Spirit to interpret when we don’t know what we ought to say.

This is the same Holy Spirit that lives in us—which is why we can truthfully say we are never alone. He is the One Jesus sent when He left earth, promising that it was to our advantage that He go.

God’s presence in the form of His Spirit, His communication with me through prayer, His word, His fingerprints all over the world—these are things I have now that fill me with hope.

Though our society is far from God, why not revival, I think. God changed my heart. He can change anyone’s heart, even atheists putting up anti-church billboards—Nebuchadnezzar was just such a man, and God brought him to his senses. Even people killing others in some mistaken view that they’re doing God’s work—the Apostle Paul was just such a man, and God opened his blind eyes.

With God, there are no limits.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power. (Isaiah 40:28-29)

To him who lacks hope, I daresay, He gives that, too.

This article originally appeared here December 2014.

Published in: on November 3, 2017 at 4:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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The Difference Jesus Makes


Moses010When God chose Abraham, He entered into a unilateral agreement, promising to give him land, make him a father of nations, and yes, the father of His chosen people.

Later this agreement expanded into a conditional one–if Israel did certain things, then God would bless them and make them fruitful, but if Israel did the opposite, then God would bring their actions down on their heads.

In part the conditional agreement was based on Israel keeping the Ten Commandments and participating in the sacrificial system God launched when Moses finally led the people across the Red Sea, ready to be on their way to the land God had promised.

After escaping a confrontation with the Egyptians and surviving the crises of no water and not any food, Israel spend at least a year on hold, waiting as Moses received instructions from God and then as they carried them out. Through Moses, God transmitted the plans for a worship center and laws about their relationship with Him, with each other, with their stuff.

Over and over in all those laws, His call for them was to be holy because He is holy. But the problem was, they weren’t. He knew it and they knew it. When Moses was getting ready to meet with God to receive His instructions, the people were warned not to come near the mountain where God’s presence would be. The place was cordoned off, but God had Moses retrace his steps and warn the people again that if they tried to break through and come up to God, they would die.

Yes, die.

Later, God spoke to the people, and He so terrified them, that they begged Moses to act as their intermediary from then on rather than dealing directly with God.

I have to admit, I find all this stunning. I understand how great God is, how awesome His power, how far above any human He is in might and majesty. I even understand Peter’s command for believers who call God, Father, to “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:17b).

But understanding all this is purely head knowledge.

I know God to be a just Judge who will one day separate those who follow Him from those who reject Him and will mete out appropriate rewards for both. But my experience with Him is far removed from these things I know.

I shake my head and think, how can I be relating to God as one of the living stones who is being “built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices” when the people of Israel couldn’t even stand in His presence?

They wanted God to go with them, but in order for that to happen they had to abide by that elaborate system of sacrifices and purification. In contrast, I offer no sacrifices, undergo no purification rites, and have the Holy Spirit of God make His dwelling in me. Not with me. In me.

I know Him as a child knows her father, as a sheep knows its shepherd, as a friend knows his best friend. How can this be???

It’s Christ.

He makes all the difference. God is still awesome in power, but I never have to fear that He will turn His vengeance on me because He turned it on Christ. I never have to fear God’s just judgment for my failures to obey Him because He already judged Jesus.

As a result, I can enjoy God’s presence–not as one trembling on the outside of a boundary line staring up at the top of a mountain in the hope of catching a glimpse of His glory. Rather, I have the Holy Spirit with me, guiding me in all truth, comforting me in sorrow and grief, producing His fruit when I feel inadequate and fruitless.

It’s such a dramatic difference, I can hardly comprehend what life must have been like for those who lived without the Holy Spirit in their lives day after day. Even during those times when I quench the Spirit or grieve Him, it’s not the same as not having Him in my life. It’s more like a fight with someone I love who I know I still love and who will still love me. It’s ugly and painful and sometimes costly, but it’s not permanent and it’s never complete separation.

What a difference Jesus makes!

This post originally appeared here in September, 2013.

Published in: on September 26, 2017 at 6:02 pm  Comments (1)  
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Satan – Is He Real?


wolf_on_alertIn discussing God with other people, I continue to come up against views about Him that contradict how He has revealed Himself. Where do those come from? After all, if I tell you about myself, you have no particular reason to think I’m distorting the truth. If I tell you I live in Southern California, I doubt if those visiting this blog automatically think, HA! a likely story! I suspect most people believe what I say about myself until I give them reason to believe otherwise.

So too with God … I would think. But a study of history shows this is not the case. From the earliest moments, there in Eden, Eve, when given a choice to believe God or not, opted for Not. Why?

Quite simply, a second source introduced a contradictory view, and Eve had to choose what to believe. One statement was true, the other false. One statement came from God, the other from a beautiful creature that told her what she wanted to hear.

Well, that last part is my interpretation. It seems to me that a good deal of temptation feeds into what a person would like to be true, with disregard to what actually is true.

So in Eve’s case, the beautiful creature before her asked for verification that God had put a restriction on what Adam and Eve could eat in the garden. Eve answered that they could eat from all the trees except for one, and that God said they would die if they ate from that tree.

The beautiful creature’s response? “You surely shall not die.” Essentially he promised her she could eat her cake and not suffer any consequences, although God had said just the opposite.

I suppose in part you’d have to say I’m taking God’s word for the fact that this beautiful creature, elsewhere described as an angel of light and the tempter and a roaring lion and a dragon, the serpent of old, really exists. The thing is, the truth of his existence explains a lot. Sure, the presence of sin in the fabric of Mankind’s nature also accounts for evil in the world, but the unanswered part of the equation is, How did the creation God made good, become tainted by evil?

I don’t know how atheists account for evil, or for good, for that matter. I mean, apart from believing in a moral right and wrong, behavior just is. No one judges an eagle for swooping down and gobbling up a field mouse. No one faults a shark for going after the nearest seal.

But clearly we humans believe in wrong.

Some years ago when the Lakers won an NBA championship, “fans” took to the street, looted a store, started fires, threw things at passing buses. Most of us shook our heads and said, That is so wrong.

CEOs run their institutions into bankruptcy but take for themselves million dollar bonuses, and most of us say, That is so wrong.

A state governor tries to sell an important appointment to the highest bidder, and most of us say, That is so wrong.

So evil is here, in this world and in the human heart. Its presence confirms a source. The Bible points to Satan as the source.

Oh, yes, the Bible also identifies Satan as a liar and the father of lies. So the lie he told about Adam and Eve not dying … well, it was true to his nature, but it certainly was not true. Humans have died ever since.

Is Satan real? I suggest death proves he is. I suggest the fact that people tell lies, proves he’s real. I suggest the fact that any number of people question God’s existence, proves Satan is real.

Because, you see, he loves to delude people.

He also doesn’t want us to see he is behind the curtain pulling the strings. That’s why he appears as what he is not. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, for instance. A talking animal, for another.

Jesus had a face to face encounter with Satan, and the old liar even co-opted Scripture to try to use against the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus rebuked him and he backed off, but the encounter is another piece of evidence that Satan is real.

Satan is a rebel on top of everything else, and he does what he can to undermine and erode God’s plan and purpose. Death is his tool, but he also tries to accuse God’s people before the throne of grace.

Jesus answers every charge on our account.

But the war rages on. That’s why Paul tells us in Ephesians to put on the armor of God. We don’t war against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers—Satan and his followers.

If Satan weren’t real, wouldn’t God’s will reign on earth, here and now? Who could oppose the power of God’s Spirit?

Not that Satan is winning, though he undoubtedly wants to give that impression. But there simply would not be a fight. For His own righteous purposes, God allows Satan latitude here on earth. He can test and tempt and oppress and possess. He can manipulate events and people and even nature to do his bidding—all allowed by our sovereign God.

God created, Satan seeks to destroy. God breathed life into the humans He brought into being; Satan looks to kill and steal and destroy.

Yes, Satan is real, an adversary not to be taken lightly, but also one not to be feared because greater is He who is in you, Christian, than he who is in the world.

This post is an expanded and edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2009.

Published in: on February 1, 2017 at 5:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christmas History


christmas-tree-presents-1171095-1280x1920From time to time much is made of “keeping Christ in Christmas.” The interesting thing is, for four centuries Christians didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth. In fact, to this day no one is sure what date or even what year Christ was born.

Many people speculate that His birth likely occurred in the spring rather than in winter because the shepherds were staying out in the field. But Judea is in the Mediterranean climate zone. Their temperatures would likely have been akin to Southern California, and therefore mild by the standards of those in a northern region. Certainly the colder nights wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Jesus was born in the winter, but we have no evidence one way or the other.

As to the year, the Romans didn’t start numbering their calendar AD 1 because they heard rumors of a new king born in Judea. The system of numbering years before or after Christ’s birth came much later, devised by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus in the sixth century. Based on his calculations, then, the years following the date he assigned to Jesus’s birth began from 1 forward.

However, historical and Biblical scholarship suggest that Jesus was actually born some two to seven years earlier, depending on which of several questionable dates a person accepts. The process requires taking context clues in the Bible and reconciling them with known historical data. However, the “known historical data” isn’t always precise, and in some instances it’s contradictory.

For example, the Bible clearly states that Jesus was born in the days of Herod the king (Matt. 2:1). History doesn’t agree when precisely Herod died. If he died in BC 4 as many scholars have thought, then clearly Jesus had to be born earlier—perhaps two or three years earlier since the magi may have seen the birth star the night Jesus was born, then began their trip that may have taken as long as two year.

The point is, we don’t have a precise date. Scholars have looked at the calculations of a number of early church leaders who mostly suggest Jesus was born between BC 2 and BC 3. But the point I want to make here is, Christ’s birth was not something the early church thought was so significant that they needed to mark the day and institute a celebration.

Nowhere in the Bible is any mention of celebrating Christ’s birth.

What Jesus Himself instituted was the commemoration of His death with the celebration of communion.

The Bible is pretty big on commemorations, though, which means, God is big on commemorations. He instituted several key feasts and celebrations—holy convocations—the Jews were required to celebrate: Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles. There were daily worship activities and weekly ones. There were commemorative stones, and a celebration that required the people to build booths they lived in for a week. On and on God gave His people objects and events intended to remind them of Him and their relationship to Him.

So no surprise that Jesus, upon establishing the New Covenant, instituted the celebration, the commemoration, of His death.

But what about His birth?

I certainly don’t think God would forbid believers to set aside a day as “Jesus’s birthday,” but He also did not command us to keep such a day. How then did the Church create the tradition of celebrating Christmas?

Apparently in the fourth century in Europe (before Dionysius Exiguus had made his calculation—or miscalculation—about the year of Jesus’s birth), Pope Julius I chose December 25 as the official day to celebrate the Advent. His reasons seem to have involved bringing people into the church and taming some of the raucous pagan celebrations that occurred in December.

The middle of winter was a time of celebration in various places around the world, some because of the winter solstice, some as part of worship of a pagan god. For instance, in Germany the honored Oden and in Rome, Saturn.

The early Church was most likely affected by Saturnalia, a four week period of raucous hedonism in celebration of Saturn. Also around this time the Romans held a festival celebrating children, and another one to celebrate the birthday of Mithra, “the god of the unconquerable sun . . . For some Romans, Mithra’s birthday was the most sacred day of the year” (“History of Christmas“).

The establishment of Christmas, then, seems to have been a “Christian version” of the pagan festivities. The practice spread. By the end of the 8th century the celebration of Christmas had found its way as far north as Scandinavia.

Not until the seventeenth century—after the Reformation—did Christmas take on the religious nature Christians generally associate it with today.

No surprise, then, that the culture has worked hard to reclaim what was once theirs.

I’ve thought more about the merging of the religious with the secular of late, in part because of my reading in I and II Kings. Compromise was the watch word of those years. Worship, God, sure, but also worship Baal and Molech and the Ashtoreth and Chemosh. Sacrifice to Yahweh in the temple, but to Baal on the high places.

The path of Israel’s departure from God is a litany of disobedient acts, prompted by a desire to be like the nations around them.

Human nature being what it is, we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that today professing Christians are moving toward our culture in our behavior, more than we are moving toward God in a desire to be holy because He is Holy (see 1 Peter 1).

We see it in Christmas. We shouldn’t expect our culture to celebrate Christmas the way believers do, but we’ve been handed an opportunity to make Christ known.

If we’re obnoxious and demanding and short-tempered, or if we see Christmas as another excuse for a party, how are we different from that which we’re not to conform ourselves to? But if we live according to the Spirit who dwells in us, the world can learn of God’s patience and love and forgiveness.

And our celebration can go down deeper. We can proclaim the name of Jesus, God Incarnate, God with us, God Who left His throne to reveal Himself to us, that we might be born again. There’s a gift worth giving away.

Published in: on December 16, 2016 at 7:11 pm  Comments (6)  
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Who’s In Charge?


Psalm 103:19
“The LORD has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.”

It’s a great truth about God. The last line basically says, God’s sovereignty is sovereign. I think we need that reminder. At least, I know I do. So I’m re-posting this article from three years ago that addresses the subject.

Christ as Lord 2When I was a kid, someone explained how God wanted to be Lord of my life, but I had Self sitting on the throne. I like that picture, but in this day of democracy, we don’t get the king thing like we once did.

Perhaps today the real question is whether God is the CEO of my life. I’m not up on the way business works, but as I understand it, the CEO is in total control of the management of a corporation. This still may not be the best picture of our relationship with God, but one thing I know. He is not a silent partner.

He hasn’t simply put up salvation so that we can then go about living our lives as we please. Nor are we equal partners. I’m tempted to say our relationship is more like that of an employer-employee, except that’s not right either. God clearly states we aren’t any longer servants but sons.

katang_father_and_son_dig_for_cricketsSo children it is. The Father in charge, but lovingly so. And the child imitating the father, involved in family affairs, asking questions, learning, representing the father when away from home.

Except, in our confused western society, fathers aren’t always in charge and they don’t always know best. In fact, until recently, most sitcoms showed dads to be the dimmest bulb on the Christmas tree.

But maybe that picture, and even the one about the Lord or King on the throne is a more accurate depiction of Humankind’s relationship with God than I’d like to admit. They once were respected, they once ruled, but given time and circumstances, kings became titular heads and fathers became figureheads.

Have we done that to God? We say He’s on the throne of our lives, but have we started ignoring Him? Or treating Him as if He just doesn’t quite get how the world works these days. He’s not up to speed with the latest and coolest.

Take the idea of wives submitting to their husbands, for example. What a backward idea in the age of Feminism.

So, is God wrong in such matters? Or did people for centuries misinterpret the Bible when it says, “In the same way, you wives be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the Word they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1).

512px-fire_01Or could it be that we have purposefully climbed back on the throne of our lives and are doing what we want regardless of what God says.

It’s possible for Christians to do that. Scripture calls it quenching the Holy Spirit who was given to us to lead us into all truth. It’s a good metaphor since God is referred to often as a consuming fire. We’d need to quench a consuming fire to get to the point where we could go our own way instead of His.

Published in: on November 16, 2016 at 5:35 pm  Comments Off on Who’s In Charge?  
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Joy And The Holy Spirit


Most Christians have probably heard or read that joy is not the same thing as happiness. I think we’re pretty clear about the distinction.

A quick study reveals that joy is grouped with patience, peace, love, faithfulness, and a few other traits to constitute the fruit of the Spirit.

Why, then, I ask myself, do I think I need to manufacture joy?

And since the Holy Spirit is the source of joy, wouldn’t it be fair to say, if I’m not experiencing joy, I must be quenching the Holy Spirit?

I mean, Galatians 5:22-23 doesn’t make joy an optional piece of fruit. If we have the Spirit, we have the fruit. It’s a matter, then, of walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Or not.

As I’m writing this, the little chorus “The joy of the Lord is our strength” comes to mind. The words simply repeat that line over and over — a line from Nehemiah 8:10.

The returned exiles, struggling to make a go of it in the homeland most of them had never seen before, asked Ezra, one of their leaders, to read the book of the law. He read from dawn to midday. A group of others then explained the text and taught the people what it all meant.

Their reaction? Nope, not joy.

They were weeping and mourning. The Law exposed their sin, and they were undone.

That’s when Nehemiah stepped in. Stop crying, he said. Today is a holy day, set aside for the Lord. Get up and let the feast begin. Don’t grieve. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

And the people calmed down, got up, and celebrated “because they understood the words which had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:12).

Except, two verses earlier, their understanding caused them to grieve. But now? Celebration. How can that be explained apart from the joy of the Lord?

The Spirit convicts of sin. The proper response should be sorrow leading to repentance. And then comes joy, not a manufactured joy or an inauthentic emotion.

The reality was, their circumstances hadn’t changed. They were still returned exiles struggling to get it together. In their own estimation, they were still slaves:

Behold, we are slaves today,
And as to the land which
You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty,
Behold, we are slaves in it.
Its abundant produce is for the kings
Whom You have set over us because of our sins;
They also rule over our bodies
And over our cattle as they please,
So we are in great distress. (Neh 9:36-37)

Under those circumstances, Nehemiah gave them that salient truth: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Not bitterness or complaining, certainly. But not continued grieving, either. And not what we rely on today, a can-do spirit.

Their strength came from what only the Spirit could provide — joy from the Lord.

Ironic, then, that quenching the Spirit leads to the opposite of what someone going through difficult circumstances needs — strength. The little recap of Jewish history in Nehemiah 9 spells it out:

You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth,
And You gave them water for their thirst. (v. 20, emphasis mine)

Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want;
Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. (v 21)

You also gave them kingdoms and peoples … (v. 22)

You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven … (v. 23)

So their sons entered and possessed the land… (v. 24)

They captured fortified cities and a fertile land… (v. 25)

But they became disobedient and rebelled against You (v. 26, emphasis added)

Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them. (v. 27)

Listening to God’s Spirit strengthened the people; rebelling against Him, didn’t.

So what was it those Israelites Nehemiah addressed, understood that made it possible for them to calm down, stop grieving, and celebrate?

Not a change in their circumstances, as I’ve noted. Not the promise of a change in their circumstances either. Rather, I believe they understood how faithful the Lord is and how He had not left them or forsaken them, and that He would not. They had the Lord, so they had His joy which gave them strength.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2011.

Decision Making


In light of the upcoming election, it seems to me we here in the US, in particular, we Christians, ought to be thinking about decision making.

Whether we like it or not, we all need to make decisions of one kind or another. Some choices, like when to get up in the morning or whether to shower before heading out the door, don’t seem like decisions any more because we’ve done them so long they’ve become a habit.

Mixed in with those automatic decisions are hundreds of smaller ones we make without realizing we are. Do I stop three feet behind the car in front of me or seven? Do I wear the blue or the black? Do I have a piece of toast with my cereal or not? Do I stop at the post office on my way to work or after? Do I take a jacket? And on and on.

Besides these daily, almost trivial decisions, are the Big Decisions of Life—who to marry, what school to attend, what job to apply for, who to vote for. Then there are the life changing decisions—will I read God’s Word today? Who should I pray for? How should I pray?

Interestingly, the Old Testament gives us three kings of Israel who model different decision-making styles. First was King David. He repeatedly went to God and asked for specific leading. Should he go up against this army, should he stay in that city? In return, God answered him quite specifically, at one point even giving instructions about setting up an ambush.

David wasn’t perfect. He didn’t ask God about how he should bring the ark into the place he prepared for it, for example, and a man died as a result. But on the whole, as God indicated, David was a man after God’s own heart. Despite his sin with Bathsheba and the resulting death of her husband, God said David’s heart was “wholly devoted to the Lord his God” and that he followed the Lord fully.

1 Samuel 17 tells us “the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day [of his anointing] forward.” David, then, had the Spirit of God and he inquired of God. He remained faithful to God, loving and serving Him to the end.

His son Solomon who took the throne next, encountered God and when given the opportunity to ask for anything he desired, asked for wisdom. God granted that request, but nowhere does Scripture say His Spirit came upon Solomon. He, too, made mistakes, marrying foreign women and setting up places of worship for their gods. When he was confronted, he did not repent as David had, but remained resistant. In summary, he had God’s wisdom, but he relied on himself. As a result of his decisions, he brought God’s displeasure.

The third king is Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. He was confronted with a decision right away—should he lighten the load of servitude on the people as they asked? He had the elders who counseled his father and he asked them what he should do. Yes, lighten the burden, they advised. Apparently Rehoboam didn’t like that answer because he turned around and asked a group of counselors his own age. Be tougher than your father, they said. And that’s the path Rehoboam decided to follow. The result of that decision was civil war.

Three kings. Three methods of decision making:

  • David, filled with God’s Spirit, inquired of God.
  • Solomon, gifted with God’s wisdom, followed the influence of his wives
  • Rehoboam, provided with the counsel of elders, listened to the counselors who told him what he wanted to hear

The most apparent thing in the decision-making process of these kings seems to me to be whether or not they were filled with God’s Spirit.

It’s instructive to look at a fourth king at this point—King Saul. Scripture tells us the Spirit of God also came upon him, though He did not stay. Why? Saul inquired of God, heard what He had to say, then did as he pleased. In practice he behaved more like Rehoboam than like David.

So what’s the application? I’d say we should pattern our decision making after David. Above all, he had a right relationship with God, and then, more often than not, he depended on God to show him what he was to do. In short, he trusted and obeyed. I don’t think we can go wrong in our decision making if we follow his model.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here under this title in November 2012.

Published in: on August 2, 2016 at 7:01 pm  Comments Off on Decision Making  
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The Third Person


Christians agree—God is a triune person. The problem is, we often act as if He’s two in one, not three.

In some groups which claim the name of Christ, the Holy Spirit is elevated so much that you’d hardly think the Father was part of the Godhead, but in other groups, the very thought that the Holy Spirit has some part in giving the Christian guidance today, has them shouting, “Heresy.”

OK, both those sketches are somewhat exaggerated, but not by much. On one hand are those who believe the ecstatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially speaking in tongues, are the true evidence that a person is a Christian. On the other are Christians who believe that those particular gifts—speaking and interpreting tongues, prophecy, healing—have ceased. They were existent in the early church, but now that we have the Bible, no more.

There is even a segment of Christendom that apparently believes any inner leading of the Holy Spirit that can’t be confirmed by Scripture is evidence of Gnosticism.

In other words, if I pray and ask God for direction regarding a career change or for leading in ministry choices, the leading that I then might claim would be considered as some kind of esoteric knowledge that we can’t actually obtain. What, then, I ask, does the Holy Spirit do?

If we strip Him of His gifts and of His function to guide us, is His work as our Comforter next? Or as the Person who convicts of sin?

Ah, someone may well say, the Spirit does guide us—into Truth. He brings Scripture to mind, but He doesn’t tell us what toothpaste to buy. Fair enough. I believe that too. But I also believe when we pray something akin to the lines Jesus modeled for us—lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil—that the Holy Spirit answers quite specifically.

Why wouldn’t He? Jesus demonstrated great concern for the details of people’s lives—if they had enough food or wine, if they had a sick mother-in-law or daughter, if they had money for taxes or gave their last coin as an offering, if they were married or blind, if they had dirty feet, or an inappropriate desire to be first in His kingdom. He cared for the most marginalized members of society—lepers, women, children, the disabled, the demon possessed. He touched, cleansed, raised up, healed, and taught. And He told His disciples it would be better for them after He left.

Better?

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7 — emphasis mine).

Honestly, I’m really ignorant about the Holy Spirit. But one thing I learned early on in my Christian life—that the presence of the Holy Spirit is one way we can be assured of our salvation: “We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24b).

Of equal importance, John went on to say in the next chapter that we need to test the spirits: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

So there’s the dilemma with which the Christian lives—the Spirit might be guiding us, but what we think is of God might be false. The fact is, we need discernment.

We are told not to quench the Spirit. How do we not quench the Spirit if we don’t recognize His voice? And if we say He only speaks what He’s already spoken in Scripture, isn’t that already a form of quenching Him?

Jesus said something amazing to His disciples: If you want that mountain tossed into the sea, pray believing and it will happen (Mark 11:22-24). Except . . . how do I know if I should pray for the mountain to be tossed into the sea? Isn’t that sort of a Big Deal, one that could affect countless other people? Shouldn’t I be sure that moving the mountain is what God wants? Or do I just willy-nilly pray for whatever I think might be a solution to the things I’m concerned for and then see what sticks—the old spaghetti-against-the-wall trick. (When I was a kid, I did pray for a mountain to be moved, except I knew I didn’t really believe it would, so figured that was a failed experiment since I didn’t meet the condition 🙄 ).

My point here is this. Jesus gave a very specific something to pray, something we can’t know is His will by looking into Scripture. We can find principles that can guide us, but from that point is it up to us to make the decision what specifically we should pray, or ought we not expect the Holy Spirit to guide us, nudge us, disquiet us, urge us, focus us, wake us, stir us? Ultimately, do we not experience the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives more often because we’ve become so skeptical we aren’t looking for Him to be active?

This post is a reprint of an article that first appeared here November 2011.

Published in: on July 22, 2016 at 6:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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Comfort


Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, an hour from the MK school where I taught


Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, an hour from the MK school where I taught

Of late I’ve railed against Christians in the West who seem more concerned about comfort and ease than about righteousness and godliness. It’s the I’d-rather-be-happy-than-holy syndrome. But the other day I read a response to 2 Corinthians 1—a chapter that talks a great deal about comfort—and realized that comfort, like so many words, has multiple meanings.

I’ve known about the Biblical kind of comfort that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, gives to believers way back when I was teaching at a missionary children’s boarding school in Guatemala. A few other teachers and I got together for a Bible study, and of all things we chose 2 Corinthians to study.

Right away we had to deal with the subject of comfort, and by extension, the reason we need comfort: suffering. Yep. Comfort that the Holy Spirit gives is the kind of arms-wrapped-around-a-grieving-person kind of empathy. An I’ve-got-you kind of presence. A lean-on-Me whisper to one about to collapse under the weight of anguish or despair or bereavement.

Here’s what Paul said after his intro:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (vv 3-4)

I admit, I was taken aback when I read the first lines of the response penned by a person in our church as part of our “Ears to Hear” read-through of the New Testament:

I guess that when I think of comfort, I first think of “ease and comfort.” This is like the easy life, or “the life of Riley” as people said a while back.

Somehow I’d divorced the word comfort from its dual meanings. It never crossed my mind that the Bible was talking about anything other than the empathetic care and concern God has for us when we are going through hardship. And as the next verses show, Paul was particularly thinking of the hardship Christians experienced because of their faith in Christ.

So, could the word refer to the ease and comfort notion, especially that which a group of professing Christians hold to be ours for the claiming? Was Paul saying that God greases the wheels for those dealing with affliction so that they’ll quickly move to a place of comfort and ease? That they’ll be relieved of their troubles and will soon embrace health, wealth, and happiness?

I think that’s a perverse interpretation. It cheapens what God actually promises. The original word which we translate as comfort is parakaleō, and it’s first meaning is “to call to one’s side, call for, summon.” Clearly, the promise God is giving to those suffering is His presence. It also means “to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to comfort.” God’s promise, then, is that He will build up the suffering saint in the inner being.

This understanding fits particularly with Paul’s autobiographical illustration, when he and those with him were so hard pressed by the opposition that they “despaired even of life” (v 8b). They were either so overwhelmed they felt like giving up or they saw no way to escape those who were trying to kill them. Either way, Paul needed comfort.

The other thing that caught my attention in these verses about comfort is that God wants us to turn around and give to others what He gave to us. I’ve seen this principle at work often, and it is beautiful. Perhaps the first time I experienced it was when my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. He hadn’t been in the hospital a day in his life, and suddenly he was gone.

Needless to say, I was in need of comfort. One of my neighbors, who I knew only in passing, took the time to put his arm around me and say, I know what you’re going through. I lost my dad in the same way when I was young. Suddenly I was not alone. I could grieve with someone who understood, and it was . . . a great comfort.

Since then, I’ve been able to put my arm around others and say, I know what you’re going through. I lost my dad suddenly, too.

In God’s economy, He gives us comfort, not for us to hoard, but to share. We generously receive from His hand that we may in turn give to others in their time of need. This kind of comfort, by the way, is not the lie so many give: It’s OK.

It’s not OK that you lost a loved one. Death is the enemy, a result of sin, a foe that needed a Victorious Warrior to defeat it. It’s not OK that you’re suffering for your faith. That’s sin and Satan working to cover your light, to make your salt useless. It’s not OK that you lost your job or that your spouse cheated on you or that your son is on drugs. The sin of this world that affects us personally is not OK. It’s NOT! So why do people trying to bring comfort say that it is?

When we admit that the suffering we’re experiencing is wrong and that it hurts and that it changes all of life, then we can accept the comfort God offers for us. When we’re at a helpless state, God sends the Helper.

He won’t lie to us and tell us it’s OK. He will say, I’ll be with you when the waters overflow, I’ll never leave you or forsake you, I’ll walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death. And that’s the kind of comfort a sufferer needs.

Published in: on July 6, 2016 at 5:55 pm  Comments (2)  
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