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!

Belonging to God

 "The LORD's portion is His people." (Deut. 32:9) This is a verse from "Moses' song". Moses knows his life is coming to an end. The verses preceding this speak of how God divided up the peoples into nations and allotted the land. Moses now reminds the Isarelites that God has chosen this people, this nation as His own. Just as the different nations had their portion of the land, God claims this people as His portion. (See also Deut. 10:14-15)

So how are they "His"? By His own sovereign choice. He is God and He chooses as He sees fit. Nothing the Israelites did, nothing of who they were, nothing of any goodness or worthiness was cause for God to choose them as "His own". And He owes us no reason or explanation for why He chose them – or why He chose you or me to be blessed.

A question might be asked – Why did He choose 'some' and not others? I have no answer. Only God in His majesty and authority can answer that. I do believe everyone has a chance to be chosen. But even that chance is by His grace and not of our own. God has said, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy." (Ex. 33:19).

We are His not only by choice, but also by purchase. He has bought and paid for us by the ultimate price, thus there can be no dispute about His title. The Lord's portion has been fully redeemed to the last cent, "not…with corruptible things, as silver and gold…but with the precious blood of Christ." (1 Pet. 1:18-19) (See also 1 Cor. 6:19-20 and 7:23 and 2 Peter 2:1. Pay particular to that last verse. Even those who deny Christ belong to God as He has purchased their souls as well as those who follow Him)

We are also His by conquest. What a battle He had in us before we would be won over! How long He laid siege to our hearts! How often He sent us terms of capitulation, but we barred our gates and fenced in the walls of our hearts against Him.

Do you not remember the glorious hour when He triumphed over those battlements and won your heart. He placed His bloodstained cross against the ramparts you fixed in place and claimed Holy victory. A victory we can now share as our own.

Yes we are now His own; conquered captives of His eternal love. We were chosen, purchased, and subdued. His ownershp rights are inalienable. We rejoice in that we can never again be our own. It is our joy to praise, worship and glorify our victorious Captor.

Happy Thanksgiving

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. (Psalm 100:4)

 It seems that at this time of year we are flooded with messages on thanksgiving. We hear them from the pulpit, in our daily devotionals and in so many Christian blogs. I think because of that so many people tune out and turn off when the THANKSGIVING trumpet sounds. They just switch channels.

My question to you is, “Is there ever too much of thanksgiving messages, or better still is there ever really enough?”

It would be easy to plug any number of scriptural passages in at this point but let me begin with just one.

"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." (2 Tim. 3:1-5)

In this letter to Timothy, Paul cautions his protégé of the mindset of many of the people in times to come. Did you catch that the trait of "ungrateful" was followed immediately by "unholy"? Does anyone suppose that God, in His infinite wisdom, arbitrarily placed these two characteristics together? I doubt it. He places 'ingratitude' in with some very unsavory company.

God places a high value on our being grateful for His abundant blessings of grace and mercy, and He has made it imperative that we voice our gratitude. The apostle Paul writes, "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." We must understand that gratitude to God is not some magnanimous gesture on our part – it is God's will that we be thankful.

The result of not being grateful to God is also given to us in the Bible. In Romans chapter 1, Paul describes a culture in disintegration, a culture sliding backward into darkness. Perhaps like our American culture. Paul sets the scene, and then adds these significant words in verses 21-22: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools"

I have wondered if perhaps the economic downturns we are now experiencing are God's message to the United States – Is He telling us, "Your too fat, you've become too soft, too complacent, too busy building your own temples where you worship yourself and your things. You have the morals of dogs and the scruples of thieves, and you are totally lacking in contrition or remorse. You glorify those who would give you what you don't work for, by taking it from those who do." Maybe our country needs a good swift kick in the pants to get our thinking straight.

In these times of economic failure it is sometimes hard to look heavenward and say "Thank You Lord for all your blessings". For those who have been fortunate enough to remain employed, their future is still often cloudy, and we all know of friends and neighbors who are without a paycheck this holiday season.

I often find it hard to 'give thanks' for those in authority, particularly some of our political leaders. But the Bible will tell me that is just my flesh in rebellion to God's Holy Word. The Lord admonishes us, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NKJV)

The real test of our trust in God comes with the valleys He takes us into. How do we come by a mindset of thankfulness when we face the fears and tribulations, the calamities and maladies of life? Without going into a long list of examples I’m sure you can bring to mind your own valley experience. My question for you is – did you thank God for it? My guess would be – probably not.

In such instances having an attitude of gratitude just isn’t a natural human instinct. We want our issue resolved, we want it to disappear! Thanking God for it is often the farthest thing from our minds. We may go to our knees in prayer for intercession but probably not thankfulness.

But that’s just what God tells us to do! Philippians 4:6-7 says, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The only way I can interpret that last part of verse 6 is that we are called to thank God for our tribulations – for whatever we might become anxious about.

It’s easy to be thankful for the good things. A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for their setbacks. I am reminded of a verse in an old Bill Gaither hymn, “The God of the mountain is the God of the valley; the God of daytime is still God in the night.” If I could be so bold, I might add, “the God of our good times is the God of our bad times; and the God of our blessings is the God of our troubles.” Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they will become your blessings.

Some Christians may take thankfulness to an extreme, praising God for helping them find a parking place, shouting hallelujah when they find the TV remote control, or breaking into song because the cafeteria is serving turkey today instead of liver. It can get a little silly.

But isn't it better to be grateful too much rather than not enough? If you practice being thankful every day, it won't be long before you notice changes in your life. Exercising an attitude of thankfulness builds our confidence in God as our provider and our protector. It becomes a constant reminder of our dependence on Him, it promotes an attitude of giving and charity, and it fosters a mindset of self-denial.

I recall some years ago, in the aftermath of hurricane Wilma, the experience of having no electical power for nearly a week. No electricity meant no hot water, no air-conditioning, no stove, microwave, or TV, and no light after sundown. There was no gasoline for travel as the service stations too were without power. We couldn't even recharge our cell phones. Major intersections had to be manned by police officers as the traffic lights didn't work. The grocery stores lost many thousands of dollars in food which spoiled awaiting the return of power for their coolers and freezers, as we did in our own refrigerators at home.

It would be hard to enumerate a complete list of businesses and services affected by the simple loss of power. Our water had to be boiled before use, as the water treatment plants were not able to function properly, restaurants were closed, – on and on went the adversity.

I remember as my son and I said in the dark one night of that ordeal, we discussed how life must be like that for so many people in the world. Yet even then God had provided a safe and secure place or us to ride out the storm. We took the opportunity to thank God for reminding of us of His providence in allowing us a life of such luxury. It was a lesson in humility as opposed to a time to complain. It was also a time to relearn the differences between my wants and my needs.

I have found in the past that I would spray paint my thanks to God. That is I would say, "Father, thank you for all your many blessings", and I hope that God would honor such a prayer, but a time came, somewhere in my soul, that the Holy Spirit told me that God did not spray paint His blessings. He was very precise and particular in the way He blessed me. I should at least attempt to be as particular in what I thank him for. Obviously I cannot enumerate every blessing. I do know that every day I am blessed and don't even realize it, but I can and do know many of the blessings and so now I try to lift each of these up to Him and have Him hear of my gratitude.

Waiting in line at the grocery store isn't irritating if you're thankful there's food available and you have money to buy it. Even the high price of gasoline isn't as distressing when you're grateful you have a car to put it in.

Be thankful you don't already have everything you want. If you did what would you look forward to?

Be thankful you don't know everything, for you have the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for your limitations. They give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge, because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes for they will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you are tired and weary, because it means you've made an effort.

 If you look for things to complain about you’ll find them. But if you look for things to thank God for, you'll find those too.

I leave you with these two verses on gratitude; 2 Corinthians 2:14, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him", and 1 Corinthians 15:57, "but thanks be to God, He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ". Take notice of the association of thankfulness to triumph and victory in those verses. God wills that we pray our thankfulness to him and in return we have victory.

So today as you thank God for his providence and His blessings, remember also to thank Him for the trials and tribulations in life. How would we ever grow in Christ if every day was without hardship, if we never knew anguish, tragedy, or misfortune? Does anyone ever learn to stand before they have fallen a few times? Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 7:14, "when times are good, be happy: but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other."

Happy Thanksgiving 

Intentional Christians

It’s hot…really hot…and humid. The six o’clock weather reporter will tell us the heat index was 105 degrees that afternoon. I sit in my air conditioned car at the intersection, sitting in judgment of a panhandler. I question his sincerity – his honesty. Is he really hungry – is he really homeless? And then up ahead a car window opens and a lady’s hand is extended with a large cold drink from some fast food place.

This was no accidental show of charity or compassion; this was intentional. The lady had purposefully, willfully gone to Wendy’s or McDonald’s – someplace – and purchased this cold drink. I don’t know if the lady was a Christian, but she certainly exhibited the Christian attitude of love – not judging the man’s heart as I was, but feeding the Lord’s sheep.

I was immediately reminded of the passage in Matthew 25 (Matt. 25:41-45), where Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats and sadly I had to count myself among the goats on that day.

Judy and I have been attending a Nazarene Church in Palm City for some months now and several of the recent sermons have been on Intentional Christian Living. Much of the teaching has included Bible study, prayer, and Christian fellowship, but what has struck me most is the word INTENTIONAL.

Intentionality is the flip side of accidentally. We choose a lifestyle of love on purpose. We join a Bible study group knowingly, purposefully – not accidentally. We choose not to watch worldly and unholy TV programs and internet sites intentionally – deliberately – by design. We choose to forgive when worldly persuasions would have us hold onto the hurts and sorrows inflicted on us and our forgiveness is by design – intentional. We determine to follow Christ consciously – willfully – premeditatedly. It’s no accident.

Having stated all this we acknowledge the hand of the Holy Spirit in our choices. He is our guide to righteousness and also the source of conviction when we stray or stumble – yet we remain responsible for the choices we make and the consequences thereof.

Being an intentional Christian means you have considered all options in a given circumstance or situation and decided to act or respond as you believe Jesus would. That decision can sometimes be a bit daunting and uncomfortable; even challenging and costly.

It means you have established practices to deny the temptations of some addiction. It means you have purposefully harvested words from Scripture to employ when Satan comes calling. It means you pray for someone who you really don’t want to succeed or to heal, and to forgive when your sinful nature says, “retaliate”. It means you get up out of the easy chair and go and serve in your church or community, even when that serving is painful – either physically or financially or emotionally.

God will often call us to most uncomfortable and challenging ministries; ministries that we are sure are beyond our abilities, detrimental to our lifestyle, and contrary to our plans and purposes. Being an intentional Christian means we say “Yes Lord, send me.”

There are no 'accidental' Christians. Though we cannot take credit for our walk with Christ we do have a hand in how we walk by the choices we make in our daily life. Simply going to church on Sunday no more makes you a Christian than sitting in an airplane makes you a pilot. James taught us "…be doers of the word, and not hearers only". (James 1:22 NKJV)

There is intentional, purposeful, deliberate work to be done on a daily basis if we are to be all God has designed and called us to be and do. Our salvation did not come complete with all the tools and attitudes of righteousness necessary for Kingdom work.

There is faith to be increased; love, joy, and peace to be spread, the Holy Word to be learned and shared, charity, kindness and compassion to give, and prayers to offer – Everyday, Everywhere, and with Everyone.

When Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple He responded to their queries, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”  (Luke 2:49 NKJV)

I pray we are all about our Father's business!!

Be blessed.

The Word

A small group of men with whom I fellowship regularly got around to the subject of how God “speaks” to us. All of us were in agreement that none of us had heard that “still small voice”; not even a loud one for that matter. I noted that I have often cut short my morning quiet time with the Lord to run an errand or work at some chore. Devotion read – check; Scripture read – check; Prayers said – check; Wait for God to speak – OOPS. . .
I have noted in the past that God speaks to us in many ways. He speaks to me most directly through His Holy Word. I wish more people understood and appreciated the connect between our Creator King and The Word that He has given us that we may understand Him. When we open our Bibles we have all of what God wanted His creation to know about Himself in our hands. Let’s re-read what John wrote about  the Word.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
(John 1:1-5)
John parallels the opening courses of Genesis – “In the beginning…”, so we may understand that The Word preceded creation. Just as God is eternal so is His Word eternal. The next thing that grabs our attention is that The Word is not just the simple Greek word ‘logos’, but that this particular logos is a Person with a title of The Word. The scripture says “He was with God…”, and “Through Him all things were made…” (see also Psalm 33:6), and “In Him was life”.
So God works His creative magic through The Word, and then gives life through The Word.
Then in a most beautiful, and inspiring, and revealing verse, John shares the miracle. The Word who was God, and of Whom God the Father had spoken many times in the OT, “became flesh and dwelt among us…”. (Gen 15:1, 4; Ex. 9:20-21; Num. 3:51; 1 Sam 15:10; 2 Sam 7:4; etc.) How fabulous – how exciting is that?? Jesus Christ, the Messiah is the fulfillment of the scriptures! In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the Disciples, ”Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17) He was saying He had come to satisfy, to execute, to complete what had been written. Jesus was proclaiming that He was the point, the meaning and substance of the scriptures – of The Holy Word.
There have been some lame attempts to add The Word as a fourth Godhead. The Apostle John specifically identifies The Word as “the only begotten of the Father” (Jn. 1:14) and John the Baptist testified “…that this is the Son of God.” (Jn. 1:34)
God, of course, speaks to us in other ways too. I have received His holy counsel through pastors, teachers, and Christian friends. He has guided me by His Holy Spirit with insight and discernment.
He has spoken to me through words in worship songs and hymns. I will be speaking to a group of men at a weekend Via de Cristo retreat soon and the lead-in music I chose is the old favorite, Great is Thy Faithfulness. I chose that hymn because for weeks the single verse “All I have needed Thou hand has provided” has buffeted my brain. Day and night the verse reminds me of the Source of all that I have; my health, wealth, circle of loved ones, His mercy, His grace, His love – everything I have needed – His hand has provided. I am reminded that the words I will speak, the efficiency of my delivery, and the affect upon my audience is all by His provision and to His glory.
Still He speaks to us most directly through His Word.  If we are to believe the scriptures we must affirm that as you open the Book you take God by His hand, look into His face, and say to Him, ‘Here I am Lord, teach me’. Your pastor, your Bible School teacher, or small group leader can only reveal the tips of many icebergs. To know God requires spending time with Him in His Word. He will guide your study into the areas you are most in need of. There are bits and pieces of Him on every page – sometimes profound – sometimes obscure. When He is profound – by all means, listen. When He seems obscure – dig!! He has provided all He wants us to know about Him in His Word.

Be blessed!!