November 2016


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

John 14: 27

 

Jesus knew that He and His followers would never again travel the road that they were on together. Jesus was aware of the plans that people were devising against Him, and He also understood the fact that everything that these people would do would be carried out in order to achieve God’s wishes and to fulfill His plan for the salvation of the world. In this time of reflection and instruction Jesus became very philosophical in the thoughts that He expressed. Yet, His philosophical statements carry with them a very practical quality. The time that these people have spent with Jesus has not always been peaceful; in fact, there has been more turmoil, excitement, and fast-paced movement that down time and rest. Now, all of the stress and the struggles that they encounter are about to accelerate greatly.

 

Yet, Jesus blesses them with peace. This is the gift that He bestows upon them. This peace is a deeply rooted and totally pervasive form of calm and assurance that operates at a level so fundamental as to reshape and redefine the stimuli that come at its holder from the outside and from within the mind. It grants comfort to the heart so that natural fears and concerns are no longer converted into anxiety. The peace that Jesus gave to His followers then and that He grants to us now is based upon our trust of Him, and this comes as a result of our faith in Christ as the true Savior, Lord, and King of all Creation that He, in fact, has demonstrated that He is. Christ’s peace is powerful and it is strong. It withstands the forces of this world as it enables us to pour out God’s righteous love into our culture.

 

The benediction of peace that Christ gives to us is very different in nature from the way that this world attempts to convey peace. Worldly peace is based upon power, control, and acquisition. In general it is given only in exchange for some form of return of the favor. God gives all to us. He gave us His Son, and belief that is founded upon Jesus, the Christ, grants to us an eternal relationship with God that is neither conditional nor is it incomplete. Based upon this relationship with Christ we can live confidently and love totally, for there will be forces and situations in life that will be hard, harsh, and frightening, yet, Christ stands with us always and prevails against all of it. The peace that Jesus brings to us is what allows us to be battered, bruised, and bloodied by life and still joyously proclaim the victory of our souls over it all.

 

And the effect of righteousness will be peace,

and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

Isaiah 32: 17

 

These are restless times. Anxiety and anger are everywhere, and calm talk with quiet contemplation of the effect of the words shared is almost nonexistent. People around the world are engaged in the unceasing process of staking claims upon a piece of the earthly real estate for the sakes of their own self-determined well-being. So, the more that we have, the more fearful we become of the other people who are out there with minds set on taking it from us. This watchfulness makes it hard to enter into understanding and caring relationships and is, in itself, exhausting.

 

These are days when we need to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the land. This righteousness that the Prophet mentions is not something that we define, interpret, or generate on our own. It is an essential aspect of God’s character and is an extension of the Lord’s nature. It was present with us on earth in and through creation and by virtue of God’s physical presence in that creation and with the first people. That is where things went off of the rails. It happened when we decided that we knew a better way to live than the one that God had laid out for us. At that time peace was picked up above our heads and hurled down to a shattering end upon the hard rocks of ego, passion, and separation.

 

However, our rebellion and God’s resultant rebuke of us did not put an end to God’s presence on the earth or of His active pursuit of relational engagement with us. God’s Spirit continued to engage with people on earth and His Word of Truth was among us. The Son, Jesus, walked with us and explained that Word by means of instruction and actions and took our sinfulness upon Himself on the cross. Then His Spirit has come to dwell with and within us so that the Word of Life would be well known to us. This is the source of the righteousness that leads to peace on earth. Christ can sooth the restlessness of our hearts and minds as He leads us into an external focus upon reaching out to others with the saving love of Christ. We can find our own rest as we set aside striving for what we own and therefore must defend and trust the Lord for all that we need while blessing the world with His righteous benediction of peace.

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,

for he will speak to his people, to his saints;

but let them not turn back to folly.

Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,

that glory may dwell in our land.

Psalm 85: 8, 9

 

Have you ever noticed how the nature of a mother’s voice changes when she is talking with her baby? The tone softens, volume decreases while clarity seems to improve, and there is a warmth present in the inflection of the words. This is the sound of soul-deep love that is being poured over the object of that God-ordained human relationship. This is the closest image that I can think of to relate to the way that God desires to speak with each of His children. So, for me, the most important thing that I can do is to listen and act upon what I hear Him say. I do not mean to say that God’s words to me are always a sweet lullaby or are intended to placate me or put me to sleep. Most of what God says is oriented to thinking, to doing, and to dwelling well in the land where He has placed me.

 

The language that God uses and especially His tone in delivering His words of life bring about a sense of peace in my heart and in my mind. In my case, unlike what happens between a mother and her baby, God’s words of truth do not put me to sleep; instead, they put my anxieties and fears to rest. The writer of this psalm knew that God did speak to His people. Although I have never heard an audible voice that I could identify as belonging to God, I know that He does speak to me. The pages of the Bible are alive with God’s expression of his character, desires, and will for the way that people will live. The Spirit does engage with me, and His voice of conscience and of guidance comes from deep within myself and out of the mouths of others as well.

 

In truth, the fullness of God’s voice is heard and understood best in the company of other people who know Him and also desire to hear Him well. That is not to say that there are not times when each of us needs to be on our own, alone with the Lord, but it is important to live life in the fellowship of faith and the company of God’s faithful people. This body of Christ oriented relational living is the best way to prevent that return to foolish thinking and actions that the writer here warns about. God speaks peace and He breaths out salvation from the sin that continues to assault us so that each of us will know our Lord well and live out His truth in a manner that speaks the glory of the Lord in our land.

 

 

I will give you peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land.

Leviticus 26: 6

 

This promise from God is a part of a list of conditional covenants that the Lord made with His people, Israel. They did not keep their side of the deal, and not much has changed since then, either. Humans are not good at keeping our bargains with God or with each other. What God asked them to do was not all that complicated. He wanted them to worship Him fully and totally and follow His statutes absolutely. That was it. There were no silly rituals or oppressive acts of subservience. There was much to gain and nothing to lose. Yet, we always think that we know a better way or that God left something out when He gave out the instructions for living; so, we humans need to interpret and to fill in the missing pieces.

 

Those ideas have never worked very well. That kind of thinking and the actions that it leads to got us removed from the perfection of God’s original creation. It has continued to plague our travels through life ever since. Today we live on a violent planet where life is often considered as a commodity at best and where some people view others as something less than fully human in order to use and discard them. Those harmful beasts have not been eliminated; instead, they lurk in the shadows of many of our streets, and they openly feed on our young in some places where we attempt to dwell. Because of our own disobedient and violent tendencies, weapons are everywhere in our societies, and they are employed under the pretense of bringing about peace.

 

Over the course of human history, all of this has caused God great anguish and grief, and He has responded to it with His righteous judgment. Although this judgment has and does include the removal of blessings and of protections, it also includes a significant outpouring of the Lord’s redemptive mercy and grace. This outpouring reaches its pinnacle when God allowed us to extend our violent natures to His Son on the cross and God’s rightful anger against humanity was placed upon the one being who deserved none of it. Now, in Christ, we can have a peace in our souls that persists over and against the ways of this world. Through Christ and in His power and strength we can and must stand against the violence and the oppression that travel through our streets so that peace can rule our land.

 

These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.

Acts 17: 6, 7

 

What a charge to have brought against you! Condemned for “turning the world upside down”. In more modern terms, they are charged with shaking up the system or with challenging the way that people in power are ruling and the decisions that they are making. So, the people of this town, Thessalonica, want to stand Paul and other followers of Jesus before the magistrates and have their seditious ways dealt with firmly and finally. You see, these Christians are trouble makers. They don’t act like the rest of the people. They proclaim allegiance to a different king. These men and women follow Jesus.

 

Their loyalty to Jesus is more than just an outward expression of submission to power and to enforced rule. The Romans who rule the land can never leave their swords behind, and their soldiers are quick to defend the rights that Caesar, their king, has claimed over the lives of the inhabitants of all lands where they are in power. Jesus is different. He commands that His followers lay down their swords, set aside dominance in humble submission to God, and seek to love the very people who oppose them. In this Christ-centric culture the strong give up their possessions and their position in order to care for the weak and the impoverished. They even do this to take care of the needs of people in far away lands. This sort of self-sacrificing and anti-consumerist life makes no sense. It was as troubling and anti-culture then as it is now.

 

It seems to me that our world is at least as worthy of being turned over as was the one that Paul lived in. There is much that can be done by each of us who know Christ to stand in opposition to the direction that our world is going. We can and should speak up and out for what is true, righteous, and holy. In doing this we need to continually seek God and be committed to listening to His voice as He directs us. Although we can and should care about the course that our nations and their leaders are following, we must also realize that we serve a different and a greater king than any national ruler. We also live in a far greater kingdom than any country can ever become. Our primary loyalty and our principle focus needs to be concentrated on knowing God. We do this by constant prayer and study and submission to His Word, both individually and in gatherings of other followers of Christ, and then by living out a committed response to following Christ regardless of the cost. Perhaps then, we too can be accused of “turning the world upside down.”

 

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in the doing.

James 1: 25

 

Liberty means many different things as that meaning is often determined by the context of the use of the word. For a sailor who has been on a long cruise it means the opportunity to go ashore and enter into freedom from the rules that govern life on the ship. Prisoners experience liberty as they are set free from confinement. Patrick Henry is quoted on the subject as he concluded his remarks before the Second Virginia Convention on March 20, 1775 with this famous statement, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Henry was speaking about freedom from oppressive rule and he was counseling revolution as the means to achieve that form of liberty. It might seem that liberty in its truest sense involves taking action; it is not passive.

 

That is the point that James is driving at here, too. Christ perfects God’s law. His death and resurrection free people from our captivity to sin and its death, which is what made the law incomplete on its own. This law that Christ has perfected is the only way by which people can enter into the true liberty that God desires for us to enjoy. This liberty, like all forms of freedom, comes with responsibilities attached to it. In Christ, we are free to live fully, vigorously, and passionately within the will of God as He has expressed it in His Word. We are free, but to enjoy and employ that freedom we are required to submit ourselves fully to Christ. In what is one of creation’s greatest paradoxes our most important freedom also demands our total servitude.

 

As servants of Christ, followers of the true reigning King, we are to be people who are not content to just hear good sounding words and become satisfied that we are different from our culture by virtue of a momentary period of association such as attending church or a bible study. Those are good things, but that is not all that Christ desires for us to do with our liberty. We are free to speak truth into our culture and to do so in a manner that brings loving care and righteous zeal into the conversation. Our liberty should remove fear and self-protection from our approaches to others whether they are neighbors who do not seem to know God or are people from vastly different cultures with foreign languages and customs. The liberty that Christ so painfully purchased for us demands that we, in turn, touch our world with the love, truth, and saving grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

[For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.]

Matthew 6: 13

 

With temptation, evil, power, kingdoms, and glory all mixed together Jesus gave us the content for a great adventure or fantasy story. But He was not telling a bedtime fable or giving us some light entertainment. Jesus was entering into the holy realm of prayer, and He was speaking about the reality of life when He did this. There are no wasted words here. All of the content is important, and that is why I have chosen to add the bracketed last line from the New American Standard text to my usual ESV version here. There is a completion of thought that these final words of this prayer bring out that seem to matter to me today.

 

Temptation swirls about us every day. God does not place it there. In fact, it comes about because there is a very real and quite active presence of evil in our world that is continually working in opposition to God, for we live squarely in the center of today’s battlefield where Satan engages with God for power and dominion and for the ownership of souls. Temptation and the sinful thoughts and actions that it can lead to are placed before us and are used as weapons of war by Satan in order to distract and disable followers of Christ from our callings as servants of the true King. When we pray for protection and for deliverance from these temptations and in repentance for our sinfulness, we are recognizing that Christ is our Lord and Master and that He will lead, guide, and empower us in living righteously.

 

Jesus is giving us words of respectful and loving submission to Christ, and He is our one and only hope for walking through these perilous days in a manner that conforms to God’s Word and that brings honor and glory to the Lord. Yet, this singular hope will not be frustrated or defeated if we continually reach out in faith and trust to Christ who does actively work to save us and to redeem this world, for God does rule this world, and He has granted to Christ the power and the authority to save people and to enact that same sovereign authority on Satan’s attempts to exercise false rule over people and places here. As people who know God and who seek to follow His will, we must continually seek out His protection and guidance as we trust Him in all aspects of life’s journey; so, we pray from deep in our hearts as Jesus models for us.

 

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