And Then There Was Peace


Gideon004I’m slow on the uptake at times. For years I thought Israel, prior to becoming a kingdom, only had a judge when they needed to be rescued from an oppressor. Hence the judges were, in essence, military heroes, but little else.

Except, I noticed a few years ago as I read from Judges 4 that Deborah was judging Israel before God called her to facilitate the end of the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5, emphasis added)

Finally, as I read further, something clicked inside my head. The book records a small group of judges who don’t have military credentials. I’d always thought Scripture skipped who they fought against and how long Israel was in bondage to these unnamed oppressors.

But no.

Those judges didn’t come to their position in response to the need to free Israel from oppression. They simply were the designated judges that presided over the nation for those short years.

So apparently God selected judges throughout Israel’s pre-king years, not as military heroes, as I used to think, but as judges. (Imagine that!) They were to be the leaders of the nation, the ones who, like Moses before them, arbitrated between the people. No longer did leading include heading up the caravan of people traveling through the wilderness (as Moses had) or even conducting a military campaign (as Joshua had), though many of the judges did the latter.

In reality, the judges were God’s representative to the nation. Interestingly, many of them did free Israel from foreign oppression, but afterwards, they continued to judge the nation. For example, Gideon judged Israel for forty years after God used him and the measly three hundred to free the people from the iron fist of Midian. Before him, Deborah judged Israel for another forty years once she and Barak had freed the nation.

And the four judges who weren’t military leaders? They were in charge for a total of forty-seven years. Of the four, three served consecutively, right before Samson. They held the judgeship for seven, ten, and eight years respectively. So, for twenty-five years Israel knew peace.

Until they didn’t.

I’m not sure how the whole judge thing worked. Deborah, we know, stayed in one place and people came to her. But did people from the far away tribes make that trek? And what happened when God “gave them into the hands” of oppressors? Did that mean He did not choose a judge for that period of time? And how was the judge chosen?

We know God spoke to Gideon and Samuel. Deborah was a prophetess, so God spoke to her as well. Samson was set apart in his mother’s womb, and the Spirit of God came upon him when he needed superhuman strength, but did he actually judge the nation? Did God call him to do so? And what about the others—Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and the rest—how were they chosen? Scripture doesn’t say.

So the process isn’t clear. Who exactly was in charge during those years?

The question comes to mind because after periods of peace, inevitably the book of Judges records a verse like 13:1—“Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.”

But when, exactly did the people do this evil? The oppression came as a result of the evil, so the doing of evil must have come during those years of peace.

I’m sure Israel wanted peace. They had put up with Moab and Midian on the east, the Canaanites in the north, and the Philistines in the west. At one point they were nearly starved off their land as the Midianites burned their crops right before harvest and killed off their livestock.

War was . . . well, you know what war is, and Israel lived through it over and over and over. But because of it, they turned to God and cried out for Him to rescue them. It was during peace that they turned their backs on Him and worshiped other gods.

So peace and prosperity and abundance are things we long for, things we strive for, things we enjoy. But in oppression, we call out to God.

So which is actually better for us?

I maintain it’s not the situation we’re in that is better for us or worse, though history seems to argue against me. I think it’s our heart attitude. Paul said he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)

I’d rather have peace than oppression, prosperity than humble means, but do I want peace and prosperity more than I want Jesus? Do I want to know God and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?

Peace actually tests our hearts to see if we want what tastes good and looks pleasing to the eye and promises to make us wise, more than we want to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Peace, more than oppression, then, should bring us to our knees praying for God to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, because the temptation of our souls is a bigger deal than the oppression of our bodies.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2014.

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And Then There Was Peace


Gideon004I’m slow on the uptake at times. Until recently I thought Israel, prior to becoming a kingdom, only had a judge when they needed to be rescued from an oppressor. Hence the judges were, in essence, military heroes, but little else.

Except, I noticed as I read from Judges 4 that Deborah was judging Israel before God called her to facilitate the end of the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5, emphasis added)

Finally, as I read further, something clicked inside my head. The book records a small group of judges who don’t have military credentials. I’d always thought Scripture skipped who they fought against and how long Israel was in bondage to these unnamed oppressors. But no.

Those judges didn’t come to their position in response to the need to free Israel from oppression. They simply were the designated judges that presided over the nation for those short years.

So apparently God selected judges throughout Israel’s pre-king years, not as military heroes, as I used to think, but as judges. (Imagine that!) They were to be the leaders of the nation, the ones who, like Moses before them, arbitrated between the people. No longer did leading include heading up the caravan of people traveling through the wilderness (as Moses had) or even conducting a military campaign (as Joshua had), though many of the judges did the latter.

In reality, the judges were God’s representative to the nation. Interestingly, many of them did free Israel from foreign oppression, but afterwards, they continued to judge the nation. For example, Gideon judged Israel for forty years after God used him and the measly three hundred to free the people from the iron fist of Midian. Before him, Deborah judged Israel for another forty years once she and Barak had freed the nation.

And the four who weren’t military leaders? They were in charge for a total of forty-seven years. Three consecutive judges, right before Samson, held the judgeship for seven, ten, and eight years respectively. So, for twenty-five years Israel knew peace.

Until they didn’t.

I’m not sure how the whole judge thing worked. Deborah, we know, stayed in one place and people came to her. But did people from the far away tribes make that trek? And what happened when God “gave them into the hands” of oppressors? Did that mean He did not choose a judge for that period of time? And how was the judge chosen?

We know God spoke to Gideon and Samuel. Deborah was a prophetess, so God spoke to her as well. Samson was set apart in his mother’s womb, and the Spirit of God came upon him when he needed superhuman strength, but did he actually judge the nation? Did God call him to do so? And what about the others—Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and the rest—how were they chosen? Scripture doesn’t say.

So the process isn’t clear. Who exactly was in charge during those years?

The question comes to mind because after periods of peace, inevitably Judges records a verse like 13:1—“Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.”

But when, exactly did the people do this evil? The oppression came as a result of the evil, so the doing of evil must have come during those years of peace.

I’m sure Israel wanted peace. They had put up with Moab and Midian on the east, the Canaanites in the north, and the Philistines in the west. At one point they were nearly starved off their land as the Midianites burned their crops right before harvest and killed off their livestock.

War was . . . well, you know what war is, and Israel lived through it over and over and over. But because of it, they turned to God and cried out for Him to rescue them. It was during peace that they turned their backs on Him and worshiped other gods.

So peace and prosperity and abundance are things we long for, things we strive for, things we enjoy. But in oppression, we call out to God.

So which is actually better for us?

I maintain it’s not the situation we’re in that is better for us or worse, though history seems to argue against me. I think it’s our heart attitude. Paul said he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)

I’d rather have peace than oppression, prosperity than humble means, but do I want peace and prosperity more than I want Jesus? Do I want to know God and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?

Peace actually tests our hearts to see if we want what tastes good and looks pleasing to the eye and promises to make us wise, more than we want to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Peace, more than oppression, then, should bring us to our knees praying for God to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, because the temptation of our souls is a bigger deal than the oppression of our bodies.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2014.

Published in: on October 26, 2016 at 5:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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Condemnation And Conviction Are Two Different Things


prayer_meetingIn the exchange I had a week ago with a couple atheists on a different site, one person who described himself as a former pastor who no longer believes God exists, said he has never been more at peace. I answered that I can understand completely why that would be true: only Christians have the unsettling discomfort of the conviction of the Holy Spirit and a burden for the lost.

Guilt! the atheists cried. That’s what is so terrible about Christianity, and Christians. That religion is all about making you feel guilty for everything. (And how dare you say he has no compassion—but that’s a subject for another day).

It seemed so odd to me at first, because I don’t live with guilt. I live under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, which means I am warned from doing things that wouldn’t glorify God, I’m reproved for things I’ve done or said or thought that don’t please Him, and therefore am led to the throne of grace where I can pour out my sorrow and be reminded that Jesus Christ paid my debt, that I am a new creature, and that Jesus has set me free from sin and guilt and the law.

So guilt? Not on my worst days do I live under the weight of guilt. I don’t doubt that some Christians who were raised with a legalistic framework or with a works mentality, might have old habits to break from. But even as they struggle to find the freedom in God’s grace, they can assert with their head, if not their heart, that they are only in right standing with God because of Jesus Christ and what He did at the cross.

As God so often seems to do, He validated those thoughts with Scripture. I’m reading in the Psalms and got to 34:22

The LORD redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

I’d used the words “conviction of the Holy Spirit,” and I realized as I thought about the above verse, there’s a gulf between conviction and condemnation.

In fact, I just recently wrote about faith as the conviction of things not seen. In that post I tied conviction with the idea of being convinced, in the same way that a jurist only convicts someone of a crime if he is convinced by the evidence that the accusation is true.

Conviction, then, is a matter of agreeing with, based on evidence. When the Holy Spirit convicts a Christian of sin, we simply stop trying to justify ourselves or alibi out of our sin. We no longer pretend that what we have done, said, or thought is perfectly fine and acceptable to God. Instead, we agree with Him that we have fallen short, that we have disobeyed, that we have displeased Him, that we need to grow in the area He’s revealed to us.

Condemnation is an entirely different thing. That’s an accusation, a declaration, that we are guilty of something. But we’re not. We can’t be because Jesus took all our guilt on Himself. Because He “bore our sins in His body on the cross” I am declared righteous.

It’s a more complete transformation than a blood transfusion or a heart transplant. Those are only partial fixes and they are only physical and temporary. This new life God gives is permanent and complete. Romans 8:1-2 spells it out:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

Revelation 12 identifies Satan as the one who is the accuser of believers. He stands before God hurling invective at Christians, but none of it sticks. What Satan doesn’t apparently understand is the extent of Christ’s work on our behalf. Romans 4:7-8 clarifies it:

“BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN,
AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED.

“BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.”

Ironically, the kind of peace this former-pastor atheist claims is the kind that comes when you get to do whatever you want without anyone telling you to stop or change or shape up or do better. But that’s only temporary and it’s oriented toward the self—if I’m at peace, it’s all good.

There is, however, a greater peace, one that is deeper and eternal:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1)

This is the peace that a person can count on even when their world turns upside down. I have a friend, a man I taught with years ago and who I’ve reconnected with on Facebook, who is an example of a Christian with this kind of peace. From a recent FB post:

This past week doctors discovered a fast growing tumor in my pancreas about the size of a silver dollar, several spots on my liver and surround the portal vessel providing blood to the liver, pancreas and spleen. I start chemotherapy today and pray for one to two years of serving Jesus.

Please pray for [his wife] Suzy as my greatest caregiver. I know Our Lord is the great healer and will use my body for His miracles and His glory. These next months are planned to reach more people for Christ and encourage this generation and the next generation of Christian leadership.

I am so very grateful for the opportunity to minister . . . I have been allowed to serve in the kingdom of God on earth and prepare for His eternal kingdom. I look forward to seeing Jesus and worshiping Him in heaven, and I look forward to these next months with you, my family and my precious wife.

There’s peace that passes understanding, the peace that reconciliation with God gives, the peace that comes from one not under condemnation—though he still might from time to time feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. 🙂

Published in: on January 18, 2016 at 6:06 pm  Comments (60)  
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The Peace Of Christ


christmas-tree-ornament-911705-mIn Colossians Paul admonished the Church to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Apparently, then, the peace of Christ is something different from plain ol’ peace.

When I think of Christ, I’m conscious of God’s forgiveness; the great love He extends to us so that we might be reconciled to Him; the sacrifice He, the Sinless One, paid in order that we might have peace with the Father.

When I think of forgiveness and an end to a broken relationship, some of Jesus’s stories about forgiveness come to mind. One such was about a certain servant who owed an outrageous debt to his master. He begged for more time to pay up, though in reality he could never meet his obligation though he worked his entire life to pay what he owed. His master generously forgave him the entire obligation.

The servant went out and saw another servant who happened to owe him a modest sum. He insisted that he be repaid. The debtor begged for more time, but the forgiven servant refused.

When his master heard about it, he had him punished.

Why? Because he hadn’t apprehended what forgiveness is all about. The reconciliation he experienced with his master should have filled him with such thankfulness, he would want to pay it forward and let others also experience this same kind of bond.

It’s a bond of peace. It’s the end of keeping accounts. No more Peter-ish keeping score: Did I already forgive him seven times? I am not about to forgive one more of his ____. You fill in the blank.

Paul’s entire admonition about peace says this:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

I’ve thought for some time now that the “and be thankful” part seems sort of out of place. But as I began to think about Jesus’s parable, it seems clear: when we are thankful for the forgiveness we received, we are willing to extend forgiveness to others—which is the means by which we appropriate peace with one another.

If we’re holding grudges, we aren’t at peace.

If we’re plotting how to get even, we aren’t at peace.

If we’re harboring resentments, we aren’t at peace.

If we’re paying back evil for evil, we aren’t at peace

Paul says we—believers in Jesus—have been called to peace. In fact that’s precisely what Jesus did:

A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

Ah, but that’s love, not peace.

Have you ever tried to love someone you were holding a grudge against? Or plotting against, or resenting, or gossiping about or giving the cold shoulder to or the evil eye or whatever behavior you perceived they had given you? Those things are not loving. In truth, love is the gateway to peace in the same way that forgiveness is.

It makes sense. God’s forgiveness of us didn’t happen in a vacuum, separated from His love. Nor did his love and forgiveness fall short as a means to peace with Him. It’s a package deal. We love, we forgive, we live in peace to which we’ve been called.

We are one body, and a body needs to be at peace with itself or there are problems.

Peace is pretty important at Christmas. Relatives who don’t always hang out with each other or even see one another more than once a year, get together, and there can sometimes be tensions. We are tired and busy and many have been traveling and are living out of a suitcase.

We love Christmas, but it can still be stressful.

Enter love and forgiveness, then peace follows.

Published in: on December 11, 2015 at 6:50 pm  Comments (1)  
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Peace On Earth


AdventCandles2 To a large extend the Christmas carols and cards that declare peace on earth or the nativity plays that repeat the angels’ announcement to the shepherds, including the angelic host shouting, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace” have been relegated to the mythology heap. They are nice sentiments reminding us of traditions of old, but there’s no connection to reality.

Further, the words are so familiar, we’ve stopped really listening to them, stopped thinking what exactly they mean. They are part of the Christmas trappings, not something real that’s meant to be believed in the twenty-first century.

Right?

Not at all. Those words, unlike some of the other lyrics in the songs, are straight from Scripture.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

    Glory to God in the highest,
    And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased
    .”

(Luke 2:8-14, emphasis added)

Scripture, all of it, is inspired by God. It’s profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness. There are no verses designed to make us feel good during the holidays. There is power in what God says.

Recently our Sunday teacher said something about the passage we know as the Lord’s prayer. He specifically mentioned what comes right after the opening address:

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

God has a specific will which is actualized in Heaven. What happens here on earth is a mixed bag, a result of our made-in-God’s-image personhood but our fallen-and-rebellious nature. We are not yet what we will be.

But we are to pray for God’s will here and now.

Christ’s coming has made this prayer possible. With His birth came glory to God and peace to those reconciled to God.

Like all the gifts of God, however, they aren’t dispensed with a wave of His magic wand. Peace first starts with us confessing our rebellion against God because the true absence of peace is our declaration of war against God.

Oh, few people actually say, I’m going to war against God. Most do so through subtle means—ignoring Him, His Word, His way. It’s really quite passive aggressive. A few declare war on God by asserting His nonexistence. Whichever, all of us like sheep have gone astray. That’s us, at enmity with God. He says, Over here. This way. Follow me. And we say, I didn’t hear anything, did you? Nope. Nothing at all. Probably there’s no one there. Besides, I didn’t want to go that way. I want to go this way.

When we confess that we’ve gone our own way, and turn to follow Him by trusting in the fact that Jesus has paid for our rebellion and we are forgiven because of His shed blood, then we become those men with whom He is well pleased. We become those who enjoy the peace the angels trumpeted.

Too many people assume Jesus’s coming was supposed to put an end to wars and domestic violence and bickering and hatred and prejudice and murders and terrorism and arguments and all forms of non-peaceful behavior. In reality, if all people believed in Him, that’s exactly what would happen. God would give all people His forgiveness, which prompts us to turn around and forgive those who offend us.

And if all people were praying, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and all people were offering themselves to God to be instruments of that peace, then we would see peace on earth in all its completeness.

The reality is, so many are still straying like sheep. They haven’t sought out the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls. They haven’t humbled themselves before Him and come to Him to be gathered in His arms, to be carried in His bosom.

So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men, Romans 12:18 says. It’s not up to us so many times. If it were up to me, I’d sit down with the fighters in Syria and tell them about Jesus, the One who sacrificed His life for them. I’d tell the abortion doctors about how God values life so that they’d stop raining terror down on the smallest, most helpless babies.

So far as it depends on me, I’d bring world peace. But of course, those things don’t depend on me and I can do little to affect change.

Nevertheless, there are things I can do—like praying for God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Like loving my neighbor and forgiving those who misuse and abuse and badmouth me.

After all, peace with God puts all the stuff I’m inclined to fight about into perspective.

Published in: on December 10, 2015 at 6:50 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Shock Of Night . . . And Peace


Prince of PeaceThe Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring The Shock Of Night, the first book in Patrick Carr’s new series, The Darkwater Saga. And this is the second week in Advent during which I want to focus on Peace.

It’s quite an ironic pairing because if there’s one quality by which you’d characterize The Shock Of Night, it would not be Peace. In fact, the main character, the king’s reeve—similar to a sheriff—Willet Dura, is thought by some to be eccentric and by others to be insane. He has few, if any, friends, and the nobles of the king’s court uniformly look down on him, though the king elevated him to the status of nobility by conferring a title on him.

So how do Peace and a troubled mind fit together?

I suppose in general, they don’t. But the reality of Peace is that there is no peace. The world is in chaos, with wars and rumors of wars, with sex trafficking an expanding industry, with domestic violence and abuse on the rise despite the efforts of society to bring them under control, with terrorism spreading from abroad to home.

Peace, peace? We recognized it last year, and we revisit that same truth this year: there is no peace. No means by which humankind can banish conflict and escape discord. We live in a world of greedy, selfish people whose needs and desires collide with one another. Hence, we fight and quarrel.

cover_ShockOfNightIn the same way, Lord Willet Dura has no peace. He “night-walks” but not as most troubled soldiers home from the war do. He only leaves his quarters in an unbreakable trance when someone in the city has been murdered. As if that wasn’t enough, one of his investigations leads him to the House of Passing and a dying man who imparts a gift many in the realm do not believe to be real. By his touch he can see into the hears of others, absorbing their memories and thoughts. The problem with this gift is that he can easily lose himself, to the point that he no longer knows where he ends and the other person begins.

There’s more. Lord Dura has a secret. He’s created a vault inside his mind that holds past memories—the truth about what took place when he entered the Darkwater Forest ten years ago.

So peace? Not for Willet. Not with people on the left and right trying to kill him. Not with mysteries abounding and the threat from the south growing.

The similarities are fairly obvious. Willet’s world is filled with chaos and mystery and more things out of his control than he imagines—a perfect mirror of the real world. We might pretend or even go through life deluding ourselves that we’re in control, but the peace we so anxiously look for and try to maintain, doesn’t last because we can’t catch hold of time and make it stand still.

Our beautiful children grow up and start doing drugs or become angry, disobedient teens. Our beloved spouse cheats on us or grows cold or loses himself, herself, in their work. Our best friend moves away. We lose our job. The economy tanks. The bank threatens to foreclose. Someone steals our car. Our parents die. Our friend gets cancer. Nothing ever seems right for very long.

But all that bleakness doesn’t take into account the hope which leads to peace. Willet has a hope that quiets his heart. And we here in the real world have hope that can quiet ours, too. Truth is, we have a choice.

Jeremiah 2:11 lays it out for us—we can turn to the Fountain of living waters or we can dig our own dirty wells that can’t even hold water. We end up with a fistful of mud, a world mired in chaos.

Night is a shock. In part it’s a shock because we weren’t build for the night, for the chaos, for the mire. We were created to live in the Light, to enjoy the peace which comes from harmony.

At Christmas we celebrate the coming of the Light Of The World! That’s where peace can be found.

For Willet Dura?

Well, you’ll have to take a look at The Shock Of Night for yourselves. 😉

You can also read what others participating in the tour for The Shock Of Night are saying (check marks link you to posts I’ve found):

Published in: on December 7, 2015 at 6:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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Quarrels And Conflict


yelling-932983-mI know I don’t always see things the way others do—it’s a quirk, I guess, which I’m pretty sure I got from my dad. If there was a well-traveled road, that’s the one he wanted to avoid. I don’t think I go that far, but there’s a part of me that is just ornery enough, I’ll avoid band wagons and take a hard, hard look at what “everyone else is doing” and in the end, I’ll probably do something else.

I say all this so that you can be forewarned: you may wish to take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. Just chalk it up to Becky being quirky again.

Here’s the thing. There are some passages of the Bible that seem to me to be ripped out of context and forced into places they weren’t intended to go.

One of my favorite verses is like that:

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Great verse, but in context it’s clearly addressing the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Still, all Scripture is profitable, and so there is something for us today. However, the verse clearly is not a blanket promise for all people. Who can take this verse as a promise and as a promise of what, needs to be thought through.

But that’s not the one I want to look at today. Rather, it’s Philippians 4:8. To a greater degree than the Jeremiah verse, this one has been made to say things I don’t think God ever intended.

First, as a reminder, here’s the verse:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Next we need to realize that “dwelling on these things” 24/7 is certainly not possible (because we’re asleep a part of that time, if nothing else). If all our thoughts were only to dwell on the things Paul listed, we could never comfort the grieving, speak encouragement to the depressed or hope to the lost. We’d have to confine our conversation to only the lovely, and there are a lot of unlovely things that a Christian should speak to: racism, abortion, homosexuality, gossip, complaining, lying, to name only a few.

The Bible itself clearly shines light on subjects that would not make the cut if Paul’s list was exhaustive for the believer.

So what does Philippians 4:8 refer to?

Remember, I’m in a minority of one, as far as I know, but I believe it is connected to the theme of the book—unity, and particularly the situation Paul addressed in verses 2 and 3:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Many people assume Paul dropped this admonition in and then did a little Proverbs-style skipping around from point to point in the next six verses. I don’t think so. It doesn’t fit the style of this letter.

Rather, I think what follows are the points Paul wants his true companion to help Euodia and Syntyche with:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 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. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.(Phil. 4:4-8)

Rejoicing, showing a gentle spirit, being anxious for nothing which will yield inner peace. And then the things upon which to put our minds. All for the sake of helping these women to get along.

Think about it. How much easier would it be for them to live in harmony if they are rejoicing in the Lord? How much easier if they showed gentle spirits? How much easier if they weren’t worried about what others say or whether they’ll get the work done or if she’s doing her share, or any of the other things people worry about when they work together.

And then the key verse: how could Euodia and Syntyche fight with each other if they were thinking only about what was true of the other woman, or honorable, or right, or pure, or lovely, or—now get this—of good repute! That is, what good things the other was known for.

Then the capper:

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9)

“The God of peace will get you past the quarrels and conflict, Euodia and Syntyche, so that you can live in harmony. This is what I want my true companion to help you figure out.”

So there’s my quirky understanding of Philippians 4:8. It’s not a catch-all command. Rather, it’s part of the recipe for unity, the way we as brothers and sisters in Christ can have harmony as we work side by side.

Published in: on January 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm  Comments (7)  
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Peace And Blue Christmas


christmas-background-2-1408232-mMy church is holding a special service to address the needs of those who enter the Christmas season with heavy hearts. I understand that our culture can project unrealistic expectations which may cause some to be aware more keenly that they will never have a Hallmark Christmas.

The truth is, we’re all in that predicament. I mean which of us has 2.5 perfect children? 😉

Because we live in an imperfect world with other imperfect humans, we have to expect conflict and things not going our way. We have to expect some sadness, maybe loneliness, and disappointment.

Grown children don’t visit enough or call as often as their parents wish. Grown children watch their parents grow feeble and die, and wish they had called more or visited more.

We have wonderful things to enjoy in this world—it really is a beautiful, majestic place—and yet there are atheist sponsored billboards with a message about children wishing they didn’t have to go to church. And there are actual children wishing they didn’t have to go to church. I was one of those more often than I like to admit.

We have a host of people who will be dissatisfied with their Christmas celebration and another host dissatisfied that their Christmas break isn’t longer or that they have to wait 364 days before Christmas rolls around again.

Blue. It’s more a wonder that we aren’t all blue and in need of a special service teaching us how to get through this merry season. The thing is, the more we talk about how understandable it is that some are sad or lonely or needy or discouraged, and Merry Christmas is hard for them, the more I think we’re creating blue Christmas.

Christmas, after all, isn’t supposed to be a celebration of family—as wonderful as family is—or a season of bright lights and evergreen trees, of carols and bells, of eggnog and candy canes. All those are fun, beautiful, tasty. Traditions are great! But none of those things are what Christmas is about.

Or, let’s say, it’s not what Christmas has to be. For the Christian, Christmas is a day that gives us a chance to celebrate Christ’s first coming. If you think about it, there has never been anything so long anticipated than Christ’s coming.

So celebrate we should! I mean, the celebration of a follower of Jesus Christ should be filled with hilarity.

The long-expectant One came, as God promised. He who brought healing and hope and restoration made it here! It’s a done deal—the great move to abolish all the reasons for a blue Christmas has happened in the most unexpected, surprising way imaginable.

And by coming once, He gives us assurance that He will come again, as He said.

The peace, then, which we all can enjoy is that found only in the Prince of Peace. He is our peace.

So here’s what that means. Jews, Gentiles, men, women, those with an eastern thought pattern and those with a western one—we believers in Jesus Christ have been reconciled with God and now are part of His family. We have a new relationship with God, we’ve been renewed ourselves, and we have this new connection with all other believers.

Here’s how Paul explains it:

Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility . . . So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph. 2: 13-14; 19-22, ESV, emphasis added)

So no matter what our individual external circumstances look like, we’re not alone, we have a forever family, we have a unique unity and purpose, we belong and are secure—all because Christ is our peace, the Christ who came as a child to the declaration of those angels—peace among men with whom He is pleased.

I’d say that’s cause for a Merry Christmas!

The Peace That Is Up To You


mall-at-christmas-699243-mMuch of the time, when we talk about peace, we’re referring to the absence of conflict. Most of us don’t relish conflict in our lives. Oh, we love it in the novels we read, the movies we watch, and in our favorite TV programs. When it comes to stories, conflict makes them tense and puts us on the edge of our seats.

Some people might even like conflict in an intellectual way, so they encourage debate and get involved in controversial Internet discussions.

But few of us like conflict with our family or friends or boss or co-workers. We don’t have that fictitious expectation that the conflict will work its way out for the good and the protagonist (ME) will reach a new state of happy equilibrium. In real conflict, we get thrust into uncertainty. What if this problem is so great it leads to divorce? What if my son defies me? What if my friend pulls away? What if I get fired? What if my co-worker takes his complaint over my head? What if . . .

Conflict is so uncomfortable, some people just wish it away. If we wait long enough, the thinking goes, emotions will simmer down and we won’t have to confront these ugly conflict issues because the other party won’t care so much. Honestly, that tactic can work. Except there’s an unspoken list of grievances that gets started. At some point, that list gets so long, the person keeping it simply has had enough and out comes every fragment of unresolved conflict that’s been added from the start.

The explosions of temper can be hard to handle. One party may have no clue where this sudden and seemingly unreasoned flare up has come from, and the other, armed to the teeth, lets loose with every vindictive accusation imaginable. It’s not a pretty scene and one that will be much harder to dig out of than the original conflict.

But we don’t like conflict. So are we destined to face either huge blow-ups from time to time or a steady diet of smaller conflicts we have to resolve?

Certainly some conflicts are inevitable. You can’t both have the last piece of pie. You can’t both drive. You can’t both pick the movie you’re going to see. These are small things, but they illustrate the point that some conflict will come our way and must be resolved.

In the resolution we have some guidance from Scripture. 1 Thessalonians 5:13b says, “live in peace with one another.” But clearly this is not an admonition to avoid conflict because the next verse goes on to say, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.”

Hebrews adds another layer to these commands: “Pursue peace with all men . . . See to it that . . . no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it many be defiled” (12:14-15).

The command nature of these passages suggests this peace is dependent upon what we do. We can live in peace or not. We can pursue peace or not. In Romans Paul gives instruction how we’re to do this:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:9-21, emphases added)

So much wisdom there. In a nutshell, we aren’t going to achieve peace in every circumstance because it isn’t entirely up to us, but we should take care of what we can take care of.

We can be devoted not to ourselves but others, give preference to the other guy, hang in there when it’s hard, share what we have with people in need, speak kindly to those harassing us, empathize with people whether they’re in good circumstances or hard ones, keep from being proud, realize we aren’t all that, refuse to pay back those who hurt us, defeat bad behavior with good.

Peace at Christmas seems to be a tad harder than at any other time. We have more to do, for one thing, but we may also have more people in our lives than usual. We have the annoying aunt spending the week with us or the guy from the mail room we usually avoid who we end up sitting next to at the office party. We have the kids’ Christmas program to go to and all that shopping in the overly crowded malls.

Even looking for a parking place can send peace flying from our minds. Preference to others? No way! That was my parking place. I saw it first and I’ve been circling this lot for the last ten minutes!

Here’s the key. Imagine we’re servants (think Downton Abbey and the downstairs servants). We are at the beck and call of the upstairs people we serve. We eat and sleep according to their schedules. We go to them when they ring, no matter what they might be interrupting. Our focus is simply on their needs, not ours.

That, I believe, is the way of peace this passage sets out—so far as it depends on us.

Published in: on December 11, 2014 at 5:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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Peace For The Duration


ambulance-206474-mGod is our peace, and yet there are lots of things in this life that are not peace-inducing. Monday night an ambulance pulled up in front of my neighbor’s house. In due time (after the EMTs arrived and the required fire truck), the attendants wheeled out the daughter on a gurney. The family has been back and forth to the hospital ever since and still don’t know what’s causing her intestinal condition.

Peace? I don’t imagine so.

My dear uncle who has been in and out of the hospital this past year and has been on dialysis, decided to end that treatment. He’s home now and under hospice care.

Peace? It’s hard to think of life without him. Much harder for his children than for me, I’m sure.

And what about the person who lost his job this week or the college girl who’s boyfriend broke up with her? What about the family separated because one of the parents is in the military?

What does peace mean for these folks?

The fact is, nothing changes even though the circumstances change. God is still sovereign and good and can be trusted. He spells it out for us in His world:

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 comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)

The important thing to note here is that God does not promise to give us whatever it is we make supplication for. What He promises is His peace.

Our prayers are really a way of turning our problems over to God and saying, There, I’m done trying to solve this. It’s your baby now.

And that’s actually what God wants. He wants to take care of us—to shepherd us. That’s what Psalm 23 is all about. He wants to lead us, provide for us, guide us, comfort us, rejoice with us and over us.

Of course, our expectation is that with God in charge our way will be smooth. But God has so much more in mind than our temporal condition. He has so much more for us than new toys. His desire is for us to become like His Son, which means we have to have rough places sanded off so we’ll conform to His image. Or we might have knobby places chiseled away or dents pounded out, nails pulled or a pin inserted. We may have to be melted down and the dross skimmed from our lives.

This “in His image” stuff isn’t a bed of roses, and it isn’t for the faint of heart. But as odd as it sounds, it’s the way of peace.

Paul said, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

So we can lay aside our anxiety resulting in the peace of God which surpasses comprehension, and we can act in obedience to the word of God resulting in the God of peace being with us. Two very practical ways we can be sure we have peace for the duration.

Published in: on December 10, 2014 at 6:40 pm  Comments Off on Peace For The Duration  
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