Peace

Peace – we find the term used two hundred and fifty times in the Bible, not including peace-loving, peaceable, peaceably, peaceful, peacefully, and peace-makers.

In the Old Testament the most common usage is the Hebrew word salom or shalom. The less familiar New Testament Greek word is eirene from which we get the name Irene. There are a few other words we render ‘peace’ from the Hebrew text but their meaning differs no more than black and indigo. When you think about our English word peace there are few synonyms. Thesaurus’ best attempt is tranquility, and it adds quiet but I envision ‘quiet’ as icing on the cake.

I chose Peace as our topic today as I meditated on our approaching celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

I would ask you at this point to go back to your ‘peace place’. For some of it is a place we can no longer go. It may have been as your mother read you a bedtime story. It may have been wading a trout stream or just sitting in an easy chair, fire embers dying away, draining the last of your hot chocolate. It was a time that everything was right – not everything in the world – just in your world – for that moment in time.

Some of us find that ‘peace place’ frequently – perhaps daily. It is my prayer that you know and visit your peace place often. My wife gets up earlier in the mornings than I do most of the time. And when I get up I often find her on our patio, coffee on the table, her devotional and Bible in hand, gazing off into space. I know she is at that moment at peace. I would not disturb that for all the world has to offer. I know that my entrance into the scene is to bring her back into a world of errands and chores, and living life in a fallen world.

The apostle Paul was very much aware of the significance of being at peace and that the Lord’s peace transcends all understanding (Phil. 4:7) As you read Paul’s epistles note that he opened each one with the salutation, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”.

Jesus was not heralded as the Prince of Peace without reason. His promise of peace was both immediate and eternal. Imagine you and I go to see a movie that I have already seen. In the movie there is a threat against an innocent child and you might become anxious or cringe in anticipation. Yet as I already know the outcome and know the threat is not forthcoming you would see a sense of peace or tranquility in me and appropriate that peace. Jesus knew the end of the story. He knows the end of your story and mine.

He told His disciples “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27) and “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This is the peace Paul painted as "transcending all understanding", not an ordinary or commonplace type of peace. This was God's own peace – supernatural, beyond our understanding. Jesus knew the disciples were going to face uncertain days in the future, especially between the time of His death and the giving of the Holy Spirit some two months later. That was a promise of both immediate and eternal peace. His peace.

The eternal peace Jesus promises is that which we find as He healed the bleeding woman and the woman who anointed Him at the Pharisee’s home. He said to them “Go in peace, your faith has healed (saved) you”. (Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50; 8:48) Our peace is predicated on our faith. More faith = more peace.

You and I can have that peace that transcends all understanding in this troubled world only in Christ Jesus. We can know that we know that we know that our long awaited and longed for peace is promised and secured for us in heaven. Those peaceful moments we are blessed with now will multiply a thousand fold and be unending.

Twice in the book of Revelation God promises to wipe away every tear (Rev. 4:17; 21:4) Those verses cover a lot of ground. To wipe away every tear means to do away with anything and everything that would stand in the way of our joy.

It is my prayer that you know the peace Jesus promised. Trust Him – have faith in Him and you will find that peace.

The Prince of Peace is coming – Hurry, hurry!

Being Hated For God

In his book, Taste and See, Pastor John Piper relates a true story of a conversation with a lady (call her Mary) who shared with him a most significant event in her life. Seems a dear friend of hers (Rachel) had married a Muslim man (Ahmed) who had converted to Christianity. Ahmed had made a return trip to his native country in Africa to visit with family and also to smuggle in copies of the Bible. He was caught and imprisoned and at Mary’s telling of the story was due to be executed.

Fast forward – the man was not executed but was ordered to leave the country and never return. Piper said that it wasn’t the danger of the mission, not even the threat of execution that impressed Mary. The significance of the event, for her, was that Ahmed took on the mission knowing almost certain exposure and the consequences that would bring. Additionally, Rachel had waited patiently for some indeterminable, though surely not short, time for news of her husband’s judgment. Both Rachel and Ahmed might as well have screamed, “God is sovereign, I will trust Him”.

Mary’s point was that Rachel was a living example of faith in God’s sovereign care as she waited to hear the outcome of her husband’s trial from three thousand miles away. Mary told Piper that through observing Rachel’s calm and patient trust she is being changed by God’s grace. Mary comments, “[God] is changing me so that I can glorify Him through the trials He has for me and my family to go through.”

Most of us live in relatively secure communities where we are protected by laws against such threats against our lives. But I wonder who of us would truly answer “Here I am Lord, send me” were we given a mission to one of the many places in this world where Christians are hated.

Oh God, give us men and women who count everything as loss for the surpassing value of spreading a message of salvation to a world of unreached peoples. Lord, raise up radical disciples who know the “dark side of missions” and count it all joy.

What do we mean “dark side”? Well, take the phrase “all the nations”. We usually think of this phrase in connection with the great commission in Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all the nations”. But there’s another use of the phrase in Matthew 24:9, “You will be hated by all the nations because of My name”. That’s the dark side of missions. The hatred will be as widespread as the harvest.

We must determine to be willing not only to love the nations, but also to be hated by the nations. That’s how Jesus accomplished His mission. He said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.  The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. (John 15:18-19 NIV)

Pray with me that thousands would embrace the call to be hated for the sake of loving others. If your driving motive in life is to be liked and loved, you will find it almost impossible to be a Christian missionary. Missionaries are people who have decided that being loved by God is enough to enable love. We don’t need to be loved by others. Yes, it feels good. But it is not essential.

Loving, not being loved, is essential.

  

 

Believing

A pastor once was preaching and he made the statement:  "GOD SAID IT, I BELIEVE IT, THAT SETTLES IT!"

A little girl in the congregation raised her hand and when acknowledged she said, "Pastor, you're wrong!"

The surprised Pastor said, "What do you mean?  Why am I wrong?"

The girl answered, "Pastor, if God said it, then that settles it, whether you believe it or not!"

What do you believe about God, and what about all the promises we find in the Bible – do we believe, really believe that all these promises are true and real and that we can apply or appropriate them for ourselves? There is only one answer. . .yes we can!

There are passages in the Bible some people find hard to believe. . .the story just isn't logical, so they have tried to justify it with their own interpretation. I can understand that. From a logical perspective many of the Biblical stories are impossible – beginning with the story of creation, which confounds our scientific knowledge, and people living 800-900 years, and a bush that burns yet isn't consumed, and a million people walking on dry land through the Red Sea, and twelve foot thick walls (Jericho) come down because men marched around and then shouted. . .it's all just too much for our logical, educated minds to accept. It's hard to accept because we cannot grasp the might and majesty of our God.

We go about our day, we work, we eat, we play with our children, we watch TV, but we don't ever see a burning bush. We pray for relief from some calamity, malady, or affliction, and sometimes we see those prayers answered. . .and then Satan whispers, "Was that God? Or was that just a coincidence???" And we listen, and then there's doubt. Did God really promise that He will never leave me or forsake me??

To believe in ALL God's promises we must first believe in His Holy Word – the Bible. If you don't believe that "all scripture is God breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16) and that "prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God…" (2 Peter 1:20-21), then of course you have no foundation for believing anything written in the scriptures.

Jesus said our faith must be as that of a little child. Children have much less trouble believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. They believe because we have told them so. Little children are much more receptive to the words "Jesus loves me, this I know, 'cause the Bible tells me so". It is only as we mature, get educated, and allow our faith to be filtered by worldly logic and teaching that doubts in scripture come creeping in. It took me a few years to unlearn worldly views and to have confidence in what the Bible says – regardless of how illogical or impractical or even nonsensical it may appear to that world view. God said it – that's good enough for me.

As a Biblical teacher it is sometimes my sad duty to say that "I don't know why ____________". If God wants us to know something – He makes it clear to us. He has made it plain that we aren't to know – or understand – everything about our lives nor everything about His thoughts. (Is. 55:8-9; 1 Cor. 2:9) I often have to remind myself that while study of the scriptures is an imperative from God (2 Pet. 3:18) there is no verse or passage that says I must understand all that is written in His book.

So which of the promises of the Bible can we appropriate? How about Jeremiah 29:11?  It says God has a plan for me to prosper. Should I interpret that to mean I will get rich if I believe in Him? I think not…read the whole passage in context. God is promising the Jewish exiles in Babylon that He will return them to Jerusalem where His plan is that they will prosper. But even for the exiles prosperity doesn't equate with monetary wealth. So am I saying that verse is no more applicable for our lives than the parting of the Red Sea – certainly not!!

When God caused Jeremiah to write down these words for all eternity, surely He was not just conveying a sweet story for our entertainment. The lesson is that God does have a plan for all His children to prosper – to have hope and a future. But our prosperity is in Him; our future is our adoption by Him into His kingdom. Verses 12-14 define conditions for the promise – that we pray to Him, that we seek Him. Many of God's promises are conditional on our submission to Him, our obedience to His Holy Word, and our acknowledgement and confession of Christ's work on Calvary.

There are also unconditional promises, the one over-riding one of which is, "The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you." (Deut. 31:8) Jesus confirmed this with His promise, "…and I will be with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt. 28:20) The opening words of John 3:16 says that "God so loved the world". The world – that's you and me, all of us. There's no provision, no caveat, no conditions – God so loved the world. We are loved by God, like it or not, and that's a promise you can believe.

Believe in that one promise of His love and the rest just kinda fall in line.
Read also "Because God Has Said".
 

Testing

 "See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction." (Isaiah 48:10)
"Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law. . ."
(Psalm 94:12)

Should we welcome the testing and discipline of God? My wise and wonderful bride loves the cliche', "There is no testimony without a test."

I know of a man, a faithful believer, who for many years shared with his friends about how God seemed to daily empty his basket of blessings on him and his family. It seemed no distress, no trial, no bad thing came their way. He even felt guilty that so many of his church family were oppressed by financial, health, and relationship problems. He was certainly not wealthy, at least not by American standards, but his family was financially comfortable. They enjoyed good health and his children and grandchildren all knew the Lord as their savior. He was surrounded by many friends and – well – life was just good.

And so, as he continued to grow in his faith he wondered why the Lord had not tested him. Somewhere along the line he had heard that if you're not having occasional journeys into a valley then perhaps your faith is too weak to be tested. Similarly he heard that Satan doesn't bother with those who aren't a threat to him. So, while not looking for cloudy skies, he did wonder.

You see the greatest test of our trust in God is when we have no-one else to turn to. As long as we're on the mountain top we give God the glory, we vocally praise and thank Him for His abundant ongoing providence. But mountain tops don't drive us to our knees in despair, crying out for relief, praying for mercy, begging for a cure, or employment, or forgiveness.

Its much harder to praise God when life gets hard, when you have an unfaithful spouse or a rebellious and delinquent child, when the job you thought would go on indefinitely suddenly disappears, and you wonder how you'll pay the rent and how you will feed your children; or when a loved one is stricken with an illness that may take them from you and additionally drive you into unbelievable indebtedness. That's when many would look up, perhaps shake a fist, and say "Why me Lord?" – "I don't deserve this!" But our God says "When you are weak, them I am strong"- "My grace is sufficient".

Though it may be hard, I would urge you to look at your affliction from a different viewpoint.

Let us first take another reading of our opening verse  – Isaiah 48:10. I typically use the NIV as a default interpretation because it is much easier to read than the King James. In some cases the interpretations are just as reliable but then, in some cases, as here, the rendering leaves us with an incomplete understanding. Reading from the KJV, "Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction."   Note the difference in the second part of the verse – the word 'chosen' verses 'tested'. The difference here is that the Hebrew word, bachar, is from a root – to try; such as, "I will try you out on my softball team – I choose you for  a trial run" Thus the KJV 'chosen' is far closer in interpretation than the NIV or ESV or NKJV 'tested'.

What the Lord is trying to get across is that He has chosen you to be tested. In His great love for you He has chosen you for a test of your faith, and in that sense we should indeed rejoice in that test. God has chosen me. . .

Let affliction come – God has chosen me. Poverty may intrude at my door, but God is already in the house. Sickness may invade, but we have a Salve ready – God has chosen me! Whatever might bring me to tears, I know that He has "chosen" me. Even in the valley of the shadow of death He says, "Fear no evil; for I am with you".

As for the 'man I knew' and what became of his life on the mountain top – that man was your author and he was indeed tested. He not only survived his journey into the valley – he was, I was, by God's good grace, victorious. I was surrounded by the family of God who bolstered my faith, showed me His face, and through them I knew His faithfulness –  that He was walking me, guiding me through the valley. Not only would I not walk the valley alone, but I would come through victorious. So I praise Him for loving me enough to choose me for a test. I pray you are chosen, for by so you may draw nearer to God than you would you ever know.

Trust Him and be blessed. . .

  

Because God Has Said

"Because God has said. . .so we can say with confidence. . ."

". . .because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32)

"You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4 NKJV)

During the praise and worship portion of any given Sunday service I'm sure we would find almost unanimous agreement with the words of Chris Tomlin's song, "Our God". Parroting the query of Romans 8:31 we should indeed demand to know, "who-ever might prevail over His children?"

"Because God has said. . .so we can say with confidence. . ." If we could only grasp these words by faith, we would have an all-conquering weapon at hand. What doubts we would allay; what fears could we calm, what burdens might be overcome!

Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Will not the distresses of life and the pangs of death; will not the corruption within, and the snares without; will not the trials from above, and the temptations from beneath all seem but light afflictions, when we can hide ourselves beneath the bulwark of "he hath said"? Yes, whether for delight in our silence or for strength in our conflict, "he hath said" must be our daily resort."  (Morning by Morning)

Some quick counts from a concordance reveals that "thus says the Lord" appears over 500 times, and "declares the Lord", 250 times in the Old Testament. Then we have "the Lord has said. . ."

My point is that God is speaking to us. Many of these "thus says the Lord" and "the Lord declares" we would surely want to avoid as they were words of wrath spoken to a rebellious nation of Israel, but we cannot and we see the results of His wrath on our nation as it has turned away from God just as the Israelites did over and over again.

Many of these verses are God's promises to those who would obey Him, and those promises we can today appropriate for our own lives and that of the church.

What greater motivation for Bible study could there be than to know there are promises of rewards and blessings unknown to you now! There may be a promise in the Word that would exactly fit your case, but you may not know of it; therefore, you miss its comfort. You're like a prisoner in a dungeon with a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card at hand and you know nothing of it. There may be a potent medicine in God's great pharmacy waiting to cure your sickness, but you failed to look for the prescription He designed for you. You may continue to be sick unless you examine and search the scriptures to discover what "the Lord has said".

Since "the Lord has said" is the source of all wisdom and the fountain of all comfort, let it dwell in you richly, as "a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life". (John 4:14)

May He abundantly bless you and yours.