peace

The Terms Of Peace (Palm Sunday)

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You can listen to a podcast here. You can also watch a live stream of most of the service below.

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This is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem (as found in Matthew 21, with some details in bold print added from Luke 19.) 

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her that no one has ever ridden. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.

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Worth noting: Riding on a donkey was something a very particular kind of King did.

“In the ancient Middle Eastern world, leaders rode horses if they rode to war, but donkeys if they came in peace. First Kings 1:33 mentions Solomon riding a donkey on the day he was recognized as the new king of Israel… The mention of a donkey in Zechariah 9:9-10 fits the description of a king who would be ‘righteous and having salvation, gentle.’ Rather than riding to conquer, this king would enter in peace.”  (gotquestions.org, “Why would A King Ride A Donkey Instead Of A Warhorse?”

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A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds (of disciples) that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, 

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”0 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

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Their chant is probably a reference to Psalm 118, which describes a king entering a city to ascend to the altar and offer sacrifice: “Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar!" (Psalm 118:27). This time, the king is the sacrifice.

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When Jerusalem came into view, He looked intently at the city and began to weep.

Jesus: Oh, Jerusalem, how I wish you knew today what would bring peace! But you can’t see…”

 

Jesus used the phrase “what would bring peace” elsewhere.

“What king going to encounter another king in war will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace.” (Luke 14:31-32)

"Terms of peace" is the same phrase translated "what would bring peace." The king will bring peace, but it will be the King’s peace, on the King’s terms, and in the King’s way.

  • Then Jesus drives out the money lenders in the Temple
  • Then Jesus curses a leafy fig tree for not bearing fruit.
  • The he tells the chief priests and the elders that tax collectors and the prostitutes would the kingdom of God ahead of them before telling them the parable of a landowner with a vineyard who sent his son to collect the harvest, and the tenents killed him. “ “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”

It’s an interesting way for the Messiah to start his Kingship.

The crowds cheered him as The Messiah – and by that, they meant a zealot warrior who would overthrow Rome.[1] That’s why there were palm branches. It was the sign of the Zealots. They wanted bloodshed from a Messiah with a sword. I have to imagine they weren’t too excited about a King on a donkey instead of a war horse.

The religious leaders were looking for Temple messiah, one who would purify the Temple and restore its reputation and influence in the world.

Well, Jesus purified the Temple, but not in the way they expected. He overthrew the hypocrites in the temple, then demonstrated the uselessness of a tree that does not bear fruit it is meant to, and told the chief priests and elders that that tree was them: fruitless; barren. He goes on to tell them they actually made disciples on behalf of hell (Matthew 23:15).

He refused to start an uprising against Rome. He actually told people to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s, and to repay evil with good. He told them that his Kingdom was not of this world, so his followers shouldn’t use force to spread His kingdom.

To get an idea of just how unsettling this was, think of John the Baptizer, while in jail awaiting his death, sent a message to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” This was John the Baptist, who once announced Jesus as, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He needed to know if Jesus was the real deal.

Jesus replied by quoting Isaiah (35:5 and 61:1): “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. And blessed are those who do not take offense in me.” (Luke 7)

That last line seems odd, but remember that the Jews were expecting a Messiah with a sword, not just a healing touch. Jesus is basically saying, ‘Don’t let this trip you up. This is what a real Messiah does.”

“Oh, Jerusalem, how I wish you knew today what would bring peace! But you can’t see…”

So what is the peace the Messiah was bringing, and where do we see it?

It was Jesus, and we see it in Jesus. 

  • “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)
  • “For this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)
  • “… and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood…” (Revelation 1:5-6) 
  • “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14) 
  • “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

 

I don’t know what you expect from Jesus, but let’s look at the life and mission of Jesus.

If you expect that peace will come to the world (and to you) when the King takes care of the things around you, you will be disappointed. He didn’t make the Romans go away; he told the people how He would help them live in the presence of Romans. He didn’t confront others in answer to the hopes and prayer of the Pharisees; he confronted them.

They wanted a Messiah who would set everyone else right, as if the problem was only around them rather in them. This is why they couldn't see it. They assumed that God needed to deal with others.

But the problem was them. They were the source of sin in the world. They were the ones for whom the Messiah had to come.

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And Jesus did just that, and He set the terms of peace: He came to make things right between sinful, fallen humanity and a holy God, and he would do it by paying the price of reconciliation. He would satisfy the requirements of a just God while showing the heart of a loving God.

“God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

Justice must be served because God is just; to save just one of us, it would have cost him a crucifixion. This should always humble us, because it reminds us that we are more sinful than we want to admit.

But mercy must be offered because God is merciful. To save just one of us, Jesus was willing to do this. This should always encourage us, because it reminds us that God’s love for us is so much deeper than we can ever imagine.

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[1] A short list of Messianic Kings who had tried and failed:

  • Judas (of Galilee), Zealot, led revolt against Romans AD 6 (Acts 5)
  • Judas Maccabeus 160's BC, considered on par with David/Gideon. He entered Jerusalem at the head of an army, purified the temple. His reconstitution of the temple is the basis of Hanakuh. He destroyed altars to Ashdod, but was eventually killed in battle.
  • Menahem ben Judah, (grand)son of Judas the Galilean led a revolt against Agrippa II.
  • Simon bar Kokhba 135), founded a short-lived Jewish state that he ruled for 3 years before being defeated in the Second Jewish-Roman War. 580,000 Jewish people died. He went from Kokhba,“Son of a Star” (Numbers 24:17) to Kozeba, “Son of the Lie.”
  • Theudas (mentioned in Acts 5:36) died in AD 46. He claimed to be a Messiah, and led about 400 people to the Jordan River, where he said he would divide it to show his power. He didn't. He was stopped and executed.
  • The Anonymous Egyptian (Jew). 55, (an allusion to Moses), with 30,000 unarmed Jews doing The Exodus reenactment. He led them to the Mount of Olives, where he claimed he would command the walls around Jerusalem to fall. His group was massacred by Procurator Antonius Felix, and he was never seen again.

 

Peace (Freedom Series)

There are many things that can rob us of peace. First, our peace can be shattered by circumstances around us that impact us. Maybe it’s relational instability or pain. Maybe it’s sickness and the death of a loved one, or bankruptcy, or politics, or being put in situations where taking a stand for our faith brings some sort of suffering. Maybe it’s some form of abuse from those around you, or an addiction. There are so many things that impact us, and it’s understandable that in the midst of these things we are inclined to lack of sense of peace.

Second, our internal peace can be hurt when our identity is based on a wrong idea of what gives us a sense of dignity, worth and significance.

• Health or Beauty – If I stay fit or look good, I will be happy. • Productivity – If I can accomplish just a little more, I can relax. • Organization – If I can manage things just right, life will be okay. • Knowledge – If I read and study enough, I will understand life. It will all make sense. • Money – If I didn’t have to worry about the next bill, I would be okay. OR If I could just vacation there or live there, I would be content. • Relationships – If I just had friends or spouses who were this pretty with that personality, I would never be unhappy. • Reputation – If other people to always view me well, then I’d be okay. • “Neededness” – Maybe if I’m indispensible, I will feel that elusive sense of worth.

If we find our worth or goodness in this way, we will never be at peace. What is everyone thinking? What if I lose this? Who will I be if I don’t have this? Am I good enough? Will people leave me if I fail? _____________________________________________

The Bible makes some bold claims about peace:

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

“"I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

There is some sense in which we are free as Christians to experience peace. Yet that often seems to elude us. So let’s look more closely at God’s Word, starting with the birth of Jesus. When the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth, they proclaimed a message of peace:

“Glory to God in the Highest; and on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

Not peace to the whole world. As Jeremiah pointed out 650 years earlier, there are plenty of people who will cry “peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Ezekiel talked about the same thing (Ezekiel 13:10). Jesus mourned that Jerusalem longed for peace, but it was hidden from their eyes (Luke 19:42).

This is not a problem unique to the Jewish people in the biblical era.

• We think that if our nation were more peaceful, life would be better. This has some truth, but our nation could be one politically and economically and socially, and that would not guarantee our peace. • We think that if everything around us was just like we wanted it to be, then we would have peace… and this has some truth, but that would not guarantee our peace. • We think that if we could have the perfect job, and have no financial problems… and that would help, but that would not guarantee our peace. • And we can point to friends or family, and say that if we just had ideal parents, or ideal spouses, or kids who make our lives easy in everything they did… and life might look like we want it to look, but that would not guarantee our peace.

None of these things are bad things, but every solution on those terms is mistaking temporary peace for real peace. It’s putting a bandaid on gushing wound and saying “Ta dah!” while knowing it didn’t resolve the issue, and knowing the bandaid is going to come off at any moment.

When the angels came and announced that peace had arrived on earth, it was not because Herod was dethroned, or the Jewish people agreed on who the King of the Jews really was, or because schools were exempt from tragedy, or because there would be no more hurricanes, or because cancer was gone or because we had solved health care and immigration concerns.

The angels announced a peace that could be found not around those who have God’s favor (though that happens too) but within those who have God’s favor; specifically, those who have experienced salvation.

“Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

What is peace? First and foremost, it is reconciliation with God through Christ.

Skip ahead about 70 years after the birth of Christ. Paul was writing letters to the start-up churches helping them to better understand the true message of the gospel. When he wrote to the church in Ephesus, he was writing to a largely Gentile (pagan) audience. They were having trouble forming a church community with the Jewish converts. Paul lets them know how God helps this problem, and here we begin to see an even clearer explanation of peace:

“Remember that at that time you (Gentiles) were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace….

His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.“ (Ephesians 2:12-17)

What is peace? First and foremost, it is reconciliation with God through Christ, empowered by His Spirit. We see it alluded to here again. But that peace will make more peace: In this case in Ephesus, Jesus can end hostility between the Jewish and Gentile converts. For today, think, ”Those who are near and far from Christ.” Or maybe, “Those who we think are amazing Christians and those we post memes about and protest and have given up on.” (Side note: If God has not given up on those far from him, why should we?)

So peace is reconciliation with God through Christ, empowered by His Spirit; peace creates ‘one new humanity’ in Christ. But there are also other places in Scripture note that peace with God should bring a “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7) in all situations (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

In other words, even in the worst circumstances in life, Jesus brings his presence and offers his peace. This is not the same as happiness or feeling carefree. I don’t think it means we don’t feel things deeply. Jesus himself clearly did (John 11:35). I think it means there is an awareness that Jesus is real, and present, and faithful, and that no matter what else happens, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

• Health? “You look old/sick/frail!” My body grows older. I’m getting a new one some day. • Life? “I’m sorry, but it’s time to call hospice.” To live is Christ; to die is gain. • Beauty? “Where did you buy that!?” My fashion taste is lousy. Good thing I am clothed with righteousness. • Productivity? “You have a dead-end job! Wow, you really wasted your Saturday!” My accomplishments are straw. It’s what I do for God that matters. • Organization? “How could you have forgotten that thing? How could you overlook that person?” I am not perfect. My boast is in Christ. • Knowledge? “I can’t believe you haven’t heard of this person or this organization or the latest international event!” I don’t know everything, but I do know Christ crucified. • Money? I have the wealth of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience (Romans 2:4) • Reputation? “People are gossiping about you.” Let them. It’s God’s opinion of me that counts.

But that’s the fruit of peace, not peace itself. If we focus on peace, I think we will miss it. We have to start by focusing on Jesus, and when we find Jesus, we get peace thrown in to the deal. Peace started at the cross in the person of Jesus, and then moved inside those on whom God’s favor rests: that is, those who have given their lives to following Jesus.

Only people reconciled with God through Christ and empowered by His Spirit can truly find peace with God, bring about a lasting peace with others, and experience a holy peace within.

The Days We Celebrate (Easter 2017)

1 Corinthians 15The Voice (VOICE)

 Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I preached to you when we first met. It’s the essential message that you have taken to heart, the central story you now base your life on; and through this gospel, you are liberated…. 3-4 For I passed down to you the crux of it all which I had also received from others, that the Anointed One, the Liberating King, died for our sins and was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. All this happened to fulfill the Scriptures; it was the perfect climax to God’s covenant story. 

Afterward He appeared alive to Cephas (you may know him as Simon Peter), then to the rest of the twelve. If that were not amazing enough, on one occasion, He appeared to more than 500 believers at one time. Many of those brothers and sisters are still around to tell the story, though some have fallen asleep in Jesus. Soon He appeared to James, His brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church, and then to all the rest of the emissaries He Himself commissioned.  8 Last of all, He appeared to me…

13 Friends, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then even the Anointed hasn’t been raised; 14 if that is so, then all our preaching has been for nothing and your faith in the message is worthless. 15 And what’s worse, all of us who have been preaching the gospel are now guilty of misrepresenting God because we have been spreading the news that He raised the Anointed One from the dead (which must be a lie if what you are saying about the dead not being raised is the truth)…

Friends17 if the Anointed has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is worth less than yesterday’s garbage, you are all doomed in your sins, 18 and all the dearly departed who trusted in His liberation are left decaying in the ground. 19 If what we have hoped for in the Anointed doesn’t take us beyond this life, then we are world-class fools, deserving everyone’s pity.

20 But the Anointed One was raised from death’s slumber and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death. 21 For since death entered this world by a man, it took another man to make the resurrection of the dead our new reality. 22 Look at it this way: through Adam all of us die, but through the Anointed One all of us can live again. 

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We live in a world in desperate need of peace.

Terrorism, rumors of wars, persecution, genocide, human trafficking, tension between police and citizens, political fighting, social media frenzies of name-calling and insults. It hits closer to home, too: our families, our workplace, our friendships, our church. Then there is the lack of peace deep inside – the depression, anxiety, despair and shame. We live in a world in desperate need of peace.

I want to talk about how Jesus’ death and resurrection makes peace possible.

There is a Hebrew word, Shalom,that refers to peace with God, within, and with others. In many ways it takes us back to the Garden of Eden, at a place and time when everything was good. We have wandered far from that place of peace and rest, and the history of the world shows that we do a terrible job re-creating peace on our own. The prophet Jeremiah lamented the people who say, “’Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace”; Luke records that Jesus wept for Jerusalem: “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace.”

The prophet Isaiah said that one day there would be a Prince of Peace; Paul wrote that Jesus is our peace; Jesus said he came to bring a peace that was unlike anything the world could give. When he appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, one of the first things he said was, “Be at peace.”

This promise of peace through Jesus Christ is our hope in a fallen and broken world, and that’s our focus today.

Peace With God

We were created to be at peace with God – pure, holy, unstained by sin. Genesis talks about the close communion of God and Adam; it’s that kind of peace that is the goal. Unashamed, guiltless, not covering or hiding our sins or ourselves.

But sin ruined that kind of peace. And lest we blame Adam, we all contribute. We all choose to do that which appalls a righteous and holy God. Everyone is directed by their conscience; Christians are directed by the Bible and empowered by the Holy Spirit – and yet we still at times choose to willfully choose a path of spiritual, emotional, relational and sometimes physical destruction that we know offends  the God who created and loves us and hurts those around us. We don’t just ignore God or make mistakes; we are rebels. Some of us are just more obvious about it than others.

It not that we are totally unaware. If nothing else, our stories betray us. We want a line between good and evil, a really clear demarcation: “There are evil people and things; there are good people and things.” We want Sauron vs. Gandalf; the Lion vs. the Witch; Captain America vs. the Red Skull; Ohio State vs. anyone else, really.

While those stories are instructive and good, it’s not what we experience in real life. Even the writers of Scripture knew this. Look at any primary character in the Old Testament and find one whose life was a pure as snow. They don’t exist. The line between good and evil runs right through the center of our hearts. It’s why we are awesome parents one day and horrible parents the next. It’s why one day I’m the husband my wife dreamed about when she was a kid and the next day I’m not even close. It’s why our friendships struggle, and our families fight, and even church can feel like a battleground.

The whole world is in a war between sin and holiness, and at times the epic heroes arise and defeat the classic villains, and we cheer (as we should), but more often than not we see that murky middle battleground where the Boromirs and the children who visited Narnia and the Tony Starks struggle to embrace the good and reject the evil. And even then that just reminds us that the epicenter of this battle is in our heart.

We see in the Old Testament how God instituted a plan to begin a restoration project that pointed toward Jesus. It starts with Abraham.

God made a covenant, an agreement with Abraham,  that Paul alluded to in the passage we read today (“ the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was the climax to God’s covenant story”). God promised that he would bless the world through Abraham and his descendants, who would become the children of Israel. Abraham just needed to be obedient and follow God. To seal the covenant, it was typical at that time for the two parties to kill an animal, dismember it, and walk through the middle as a way of saying, “If I break the covenant, may this be done to me.” In a vision, God appeared to Abraham and walked through this dissected animal alone. In other words, God said, “If either one of us breaks the covenant, may this be done to me.”

Eventually, God renewed this covenant relationship through Moses (the 10 Commandments and all the extra details), and gave his people an incredible amount of instruction on the kind of life that pleases God.

So all the Israelites were now in a covenant with God – they occasionally re-read the Law publicly and reaffirmed that yes indeed, this was the plan. This covenant was a little different in that there were some conditions: if they did good, they would be blessed. If they did bad, they would not. This led to trouble, because the Jewish people were terrible at keeping the Law.  

God initiated a temporary substitute through the sacrificial system, but they had to keep repeating this (for good reason.) It didn’t matter how much or how often the rabbis added more and more laws to try to make sure they could live perfectly. They couldn’t. If anything, the more detailed they got, the more it became clear how far they were from holy.

To make it worse, the cause-and-effect penalties of their sin caught up with them. The conditions of the covenant had to be honored and they were. The wages of their sin were conquest and enslavement. One Old Testament prophet recorded that they sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept as they remembered what they have lost – and what they could have.

They longed for a Messiah, a deliverer, and bringer of hope and peace. It appeared that these people - who were supposed to be the means by which God blessed the world -  had sold their spiritual birthright in exchange for their sin. They had failed to live up to God’s standards even when God had made them clear through Moses.

Now they were scattered, dying, convinced God has abandoned them.

But God had not.

God did bless the world through Abraham’s descendants – but not in a nationalistic sense like the Israelites expected. It was through the lineage of the Jewish people  that Jesus was born. That was the plan all along.

Enter Jesus, God in the flesh, sent to earth to fulfill the demands that God made on himself in his covenant with Abraham. God did not break the covenant; Abraham did. Yet God would pay the price for that sin by taking upon himself the penalty. He would be killed. He would also offer one sacrifice once and for all to fulfill the obligation of the sacrificial system under the law of Moses. On the cross, Jesus was torn for the sins not just of the Israelites, but of the world. Jesus satisfied the requirements of both those covenants while establishing a new one, one that all of us can be a part of.

Why is this important? Because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Without Jesus, we are dead in our sins. Our peace with God is broken, and without Jesus there is nothing between us and His wrath. No matter how good we think we are, we have shaken our fist at the heavens and said, “Not your will, but mine be done” over and over again.

But on the cross, the justice and mercy of God meet. God initiates a covenant fulfillment with us even before we are aware of the need for it. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our war with God can end, and we can be at peace with Him. Our sin does not have to condemn us or separate us from God.

We can be forgiven, loved, embraced, even adopted into God’s family so that we are called ‘children of God.’ We are offered forgiveness and hope in this life and an eternity of joy in the presence of God in a New Heaven and New Earth, a reality in which, as Tim Keller says, all that is bad will be undone.

Peace Within

I mentioned a number of things earlier that rob us of peace within: depression, anxiety, shame. We could add anger, bitterness, jealousy, hopelessness, unforgiveness…

Some of those things can be caused by medical issues that a doctor can help (our biology is fallen too). Some of those things we can bring on ourselves because of our sinful choices. Some of things can arise because of sin that has been done to us. I believe the presence of Jesus gives us hope in the midst of all of those things, but there is one primary reason Jesus died and rose again when it comes to peace within. That is to address our guilt and shame for our sin.

Here’s the reality.

On this side of heaven, I will sin because I am not perfect. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of God’s word and the community of God’s people, I will be remarkably better than I would be without those things. God miraculously frees us from the overwhelming power of sin. Because of Jesus, I am not doomed to be chained by the power of sin. However, the cross and the empty tomb don’t remove the presence of sin. Not yet. I am no longer enslaved to sin, but I can still choose it.

And I do. I’m not perfect. Ask anybody. Neither are you. If you aren’t sure if that’s the case, ask your family. They will fill you in. So what do I do with that?

I could become consumed with perfection and working on my own power – and run myself into the ground trying to achieve the impossible. Then, I will become either insufferably arrogant the more I am successful or sadly self-loathing the more I fail. That’s the kind of righteousness the Bible says is filthy rags. It’s gross. Self-righteousness is not pretty.

Or I can turn to Jesus, the “author and finisher of my faith,” who sees me in my imperfect sinfulness and loves me anyway – and that love includes not letting me stay where I am, but changing and renewing me so that I increasingly become like Jesus. 

Because I have Jesus, I will have a strength I would never have on my own. In my times of doing good, I am driven to worship God, not my own willpower and work, so I avoid arrogance. In my times of failure, I am driven to throw myself at the mercy of a God who is faithful even when I am faithless, and that reminder of the love and tenderness of Jesus moves me out of my self-loathing as I remember that that Jesus knows and loves me, gave His life for me, and is transforming me into His image.

With Others

This changes everything is our relationships. The more we understand how the love of Jesus brought about peace with God, the more determined we will be to pass on that love. And when we see how his death and resurrection show His love – truly see it – we will love Him in return, and it will change us.

What kind of love is that? A radical, self-sacrificing commitment to the good of those around me. It’s what the Bible calls agape love. Jesus died so that I could live; why would I not in some way choose to ‘die’ to myself so that those around me can live? It’s how I honor my Lord. It’s how I pass on the legacy of Jesus.

 In some ways we commemorate this during communion: “This is my body which was broken for you …do this in remembrance.” We can’t die and bring salvation for our sins or the sins of others – we must have Jesus for that. But we can honor what Jesus has done by being broken and spilled out as we show the love of Jesus.

 As followers of Jesus, we ‘die’ to jealousy, envy, anger, pettiness, meanness, pride, selfishness. The Bible insists that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, that we climb up on the altar and sacrifice everything in us that needs to die. We could never do this on our own power, but we are not alone. We have God’s spirit inside us, his Word in front of us, and His people around us.

 We can do this, because God is with us.

 This is the peace the Resurrected Lord offers to us.

  • Through Jesus, our relationship with God can been repaired so that we are no longer rebels. We are servants, friends, children, kings, priests. As a church we are the bride of Christ, and the bride will be made glorious in preparation for the glorious return of Jesus.
  • Through Jesus, our peace within can be restored as we surrender and then commit our lives to the love and grace of a Risen Savior who is greater than all of our sins. We do not have to live in shame and fear; we can be transparent, bold and loved.
  • Through Jesus, our peace with others flows from this reality. We will want to go into all the world and preach the gospel and make disciples. We will  want everyone so see how the love of a Risen Savior transforms our lives, not for our glory but for the glory of the One who makes this possible.

Peace (Advent Series)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F756Mjxxrvc[/embed]

It was an interesting group to whom the angels gave this message: “Glory to God in the Highest; and on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14).     

The shepherds were probably watching a temple flock destined for sacrifice in and around a tower called the Midgal Eder, the 'watchtower of the flock,' a lookout and a place of refuge close to Bethlehem for their flocks in case of attack.  Shepherds brought ewes there to give birth. The priests maintained ceremonially clean stalls, and they carefully oversaw the birth of each lamb.

The prophet Micah had written years before: “As for you, O watchtower of the flock, (Migdal Eder)… kingship will come to the Daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8) I don’t think it’s coincidence that angels announced Jesus’ birth to these shepherds. They were temple-trained; they knew the fulfillment of prophecy when they heard it.[1]

But their watchtower was overshadowed by another tower. Herod’s mountain fortress, the Herodian, overlooked the town of Bethlehem.

  • More than 200 feet in diameter, it loomed seven stories high, with an eastern tower that stood more than 40 feet higher. 
  • It contained a garden, reception hall, Roman baths, countless apartments.
  • The lower palace included an enormous pool, a colonnaded garden, a 600-foot-long terrace, and a building more than 400 feet long.  
  • Its buildings covered forty-five acres of land and were surrounded by nearly two hundred acres of palace grounds. 
  • The Herodian’s circular upper palace could be seen for miles and literally overshadowed surrounding villages.

The Herodian was built on top of an artificial mountain that Herod had created specifically for this project. According to Josephus, there were originally two hills standing next to each other. Herod paid thousands of workers for many years to demolish one of the hills and level off the other.  He built his massive and grandiose palace-fortress on top of the remaining hill. [2]

A little background on Herod is in order.

  • Herod made his name when he broke the resistance of the rebels who were hiding in caves on the side of a cliff. Herod commanded his troops to make platforms with fires to be let down with ropes to the openings of the caves. The smoked-out refugees were pulled out with long, hooked poles and dropped down the sheer cliff.
  • Herod also laid siege to Jerusalem. The soldiers raped and slaughtered the women and children, and the Jewish soldiers were tortured and chopped to pieces.  Herod executed 45 of the 70 Sanhedrin members who resisted him.
  • Herod executed his brother-in-law; an old friend who had given him his start; his wife; then his mother-in-law. Hundreds of friends and family members and citizens were slaughtered on the slightest of accusations. Countless members of his family and court were tortured, as were his own two sons.
  • Herod went to Jericho to die in agony, hated even by his family. Truly mad and fearing that no one would mourn his death, he commanded his troops to arrest important people from across the land, lock them in the Hippodrome, and execute them after he died; if people would not mourn him, at least they would mourn.

Into this web of hatred and suspicion, "Magi from the east came... and asked (the Roman appointed King of the Jews), 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” 

No wonder that, when King Herod heard this news, he was “disturbed.”  He was disturbed by everything. It’s really no surprise that he had the Israelite babies under two years old slaughtered. 

It’s in this context, the angels said they were there to proclaim peace on earth because Jesus had arrived.

The expected Messiah was supposed to free the Israelites from bondage. That meant peace after a revolution, right?  I’m sure they were encouraged later when Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).  That sounded more promising. And yet he didn’t bring the kind of sword they were expecting. When he entered Jerusalem to a palm-waving crowd of Zealots who expected him to overthrow Rome, he wept because what they actually needed to have peace – the spiritual freedom that Jesus would bring– was hidden from your eyes (Luke 19:42).

While he spoke of a day when there would be circumstantial peace, he spoke and lived in a world in which circumstances were anything but peaceful in many ways. Jesus’ spiritual sword of truth didn’t displace the Romans; He didn’t come to bring that kind of peace. In fact, His message actually brought relational division between those who believed He was the Messiah and those who did not.

So what is this peace?

The absence of strife is a part of peace:

  • Matthew 5:9  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
  • Romans 14:19: “Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
  • 2 Corinthians 13:11 “Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
  • Mark 9:50  “Be at peace with one another.”

One of the greatest promises of Scripture is that one day violence will end (Isaiah 11:6). Until that happens, God gives us the privilege of partnering with Him to make parts of the world better. “Pursue peace; aim for restoration”: those are action verbs. We have to invest some sweat equity into circumstantial peace. We are called to get involved through pray and action to bring peace where there is conflict. God will help us, but we must be faithfully present.

  • Do we want peace between Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter?
  • Do we want peace between immigrant communities and those of us who grew up here?
  • Do we want peace at the Dakota pipeline?
  • Do we want peace in our homes, our church, our schools, or our city?

We should pray for peace – and get involved where we can to bring about that peace. Blessed are the peacemakers. That should be pursue peace and aim for the restoration that begins in Jesus and flows through us. But that’s not the deepest, or primary, meaning of peace. As important as it is to be peacemakers, that circumstantial peace will only be a helpful Band-Aid if it doesn’t find its foundation in a different, deeper kind of peace.[3]

When peace entered the world in the person of Christ, it did not mean that all the sources or circumstances of strife were suddenly neutralized. Herod was still there; the taxation was still going to happen; the Jewish community was still divided along political lines.   The Prince of Peace showed up to change the world, but not in a way people expected.

 Not much has changed in 2,000 years. Just look at the past year.

  • Every election leaves about half the population without political peace, and this one was no exception. 
  • The attack at Ohio State reminds us of the ongoing reality of violence and terrorism.
  • The recent shootings by and of policemen and the protests and riots in the streets before and after the election remind us that the violence has not left the world even though Christ entered the world.
  • Hurricanes and other natural disasters devastate the lives of people who are impacted.
  • The shadows stretch into our personal lives as well. How many of you in this past year have felt the impact of pain and suffering of some sort? How many of you have had inner turmoil or even despair over things happening to you or around you?

There’s always a shadow from a tower of death that reminds us why it  so important that a light has come into a dark world.

When the angels came and announced that peace had arrived on earth, it was not because Herod was dethroned, or because the Jewish people agreed on who the King of the Jews really was, or because the world is exempt from tragedy, or because we would never cry or mourn again. They announced that peace had arrived on earth because Jesus had arrived.  The circumstances didn’t look much different the day before he was born vs. the day after – and yet in the most important way everything had changed because Jesus had now entered into those circumstances.

Years later, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you…not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

 You don’t have to say, “Don’t be troubled and afraid” unless there are reasons to be troubled and afraid. Jesus spoke these words in the middle of the most tumultuous and violent events of his life. 

  • Judas Iscariot was hatching a plot to betray him.
  • The crowds were in an uproar.
  • The chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees were disturbed and fearful, hatching their own plots to rid themselves of this menace to their power and position.
  • And then he was killed, which did not bring what we think of as peace to his disciples.

Yet in the midst of all this, Jesus talks about peace.

The peace Jesus brought is not merely the absence of strife, though when that happens we are reminded there will be a day when that kind of peace characterizes the New Heaven and Earth. The peace Jesus brought is not defined by the lack of something. A fuller definition has to involve the presence of Christ: 

 “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

 For he himself is our peace, who has…destroyed the dividing wall of hostility… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,  and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.“ (Ephesians 2:12-17)

For us, peace is found when we are in right relationship with Christ. The blood of Christ brought us near, and we have access to the Father by the Holy Spirit. As a result, because Jesus is our peace, our hostility with God is resolved. Real peace begins in us when our war with God ends.

Every Bible verse I quoted that was not from the gospels was written by Paul. Paul was jailed, beaten, shipwrecked, and chased; people tried to kill him; he had his infamous ‘thorn in the flesh’ that God refused to take away so that Paul would understand God’s grace was sufficient. Yet Paul clearly believed he was one who had experienced the peace that Jesus brought.

Peace begins in us when our war with God ends.

The holidays are often stressful. It’s not just schedule; it can also be reminders that our families are far away or full of pain. Holidays can make loneliness worse; they can be a reminder of what you don’t have or what you have lost.

May I encourage you with this reminder: Our deepest, eternal hope for peace is not found by having everything in our life just like we want it (though that would be really nice J).  And once again – all the times that we live in peaceful circumstances are glimpses of the day God will bring about a New Heaven and New Earth that is peaceful in every possible sense of the word.  However, our hope is that no matter what happens, Jesus has brought our war with God to an end, and we can still experience spiritual and everlasting peace with God because of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ongoing presence within us.

Many other kinds of peace may well follow as Christ works within our surrendered lives, but the foundation and the focus of our peace is always and only Jesus Christ.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BX_50AERr8M[/embed]

____________________________________

[1] What better area for someone to be born who was the Lamb of God, destined to be a sacrifice who takes away the sins of the world? (John 1:29)

[2] It is likely that when Jesus talked about the kind of faith that moves mountains (Matthew 17:20) he was within eyesight of the Herodian. There is probably more to unpack from that passage than we see on the surface. 

[3] Another way of thinking about this: you don’t need to be a Christian to bring circumstantial peace to the world. There is a lot of ‘conflict resolution’ that happens all over the world with invoking the name of Jesus. And if you don’t need to be a Christian to bring about better circumstances in this manner, then I don’t think that can be the kind of peace that only Jesus can bring.

The Peace Of God (Philippians 4:1-9)

Our text today is from Philippians 4:1-9: “For this reason, brothers and sisters, my joy and crown whom I dearly love, I cannot wait to see you again. Continue to stand firm in the Lord, and follow my instructions in this letter, beloved. Euodia and Syntyche, I urge you to put aside your differences, agree, and work together in the Lord. Yes, Syzygus, loyal friend, I enlist you to please help these women. They, along with brother Clement and many others, have worked by my side to spread the good news of the gospel. They have their names recorded in the book of life.

 Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice!  Keep your gentle, forbearing nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come.  And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.”

Euodia (Ee –oo’ –duh) and Syntyche (Syn’-tuh-kee) worked with Paul to spread the gospel; their names were written in the book of life (if this draws from the Roman culture, this was referring to a record of citizenship – in this case, in heaven). No one questioned that they followed Christ and labored together with Paul and others as sisters in Christ.

And they had issues. It doesn’t appear to be about doctrine or sin. It seems like…they just had trouble getting along. And it is serious enough that Paul asks a dude to intervene and help them resolve it.

Have you ever seen Christians argue? I mean people you really admire, people who you respect deeply because you are know they are committed to surrendering to and serving Christ – have you ever seen them just really butt heads over something and not be able to resolve their conflict? This has been a problem for 2,000 years.

  • It can have to do with church life issues that aren’t about doctrine but are just about the best way to build a healthy church.
  • It can just be personality clashes that aren’t about sin.
  • For the next 8 months, politics is going to be a hot topic that causes disagreement among Christians.

If I am reading Paul correctly here, when this kind of differences of opinion or perspective boils over – when it becomes an emotional disagreement that breaks our fellowship - it will be a sign that we lack the peace of God in our life, and it creates turmoil within us that impacts those around us.

I want to back that up by looking at the next paragraph in Philippians. Paul gives three things that need to be in place for us to find and experience the peace of God both within us and around us.

Rejoice in the Lord, consistently live with a gentle (forbearing) nature, and pray so that the peace of God will stand watch over your hearts and minds.

 

REJOICE IN THE LORD.

This isn’t just “don’t worry be happy.” This is to “consciously delight in God’s grace.”[1] In other words, this isn’t a joyfulness that comes because you have tried to have a better attitude or because the person causing you so much grief has suddenly done everything just like you want them to. This is a purposeful refocusing on the grace that Jesus Christ has offered to us by his death on the cross. If we are going to ‘consciously delight in God’s grace,’ it is vital that we have a clear and true understanding of God so that we truly understand God’s grace – which gives us reason to rejoice. So let’s go back to the two distortions of the faith Paul referenced in Philippians 3.

If we conceive of God as a God of Law, we will constantly be proud or ashamed based on our merit, so we will not have peace within because we have forgotten God’s grace. And we will be constantly be comparing ourselves to others and either judging them or idolizing them, and there will not be peace around us. If we rejoice it will be in ourselves and our strength, not God or His grace.

If we conceive of God as a God who died to make us comfortable and give us worldly reward, we will associate earthly success with heavenly favor –and we will once again be proud or ashamed based on our merit, and will not have peace within us. And we will once again be constantly comparing ourselves to others and either judging them or idolizing them, and there will not be peace around us. If we rejoice once again it will be in ourselves and our strength, not God or His grace.

Either way, there will be discord within us and around us because our view of God and God’s grace is wrong. We will think we are walking in His footsteps when actually we are walking further away from God and from others. We must have a focused, purposeful view of God and His grace as manifested in the person and work of Christ.

 

REJOICE IN THE LORD, AND CONSISTENTLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE.

When Paul writes about this gentleness, he chooses a word already in common use. If you read Bible commentaries, there is a LOT of discussion about what this means.[2]

  • A person who does not always insist on every right of law or custom.
  • A spirit or attitude that does not seek to retaliate.
  • An ability to extend to others the kindly consideration one would wish to receive themselves.
  • Not spineless, but selfless.
  • Mildness, gentleness, fairness, sweet reasonableness.
  • Not insistent on what is its due
  • Slow to take offence, and swift to forgive
  • Able to temper justice with mercy

 

Spurgeon once noted, “People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. Their minds are so sweetly occupied with higher things, that they are not easily distracted by the little troubles which naturally arise among such imperfect creatures as we are. Joy in the Lord is the cure for all discord.”

Now, they needed a mediator to help them navigate this. I don’t want to overlook the importance of Christian community is strengthening relationships. But they could have had the best mediator in the world, and if their hearts remained untouched, they would probably just keep revisiting a pattern of conflict and resolution over and over, if not between the two of them then with someone new.

So we rejoice in the Lord, we focus on the wonder of His loving grace, and the discord within us settles. Then our contribution to the discord around us settles. And so we follow in the footsteps of Jesus by living with gentleness and patience.

 

REJOICE IN THE LORD, CONSISTENLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE, AND PRAY.

 God longs to hear our requests and thanks.

I would think that thankfulness is an automatic response to rejoicing. If we are focused on God’s grace, gratitude follows. When I focus on the grace my wife has for me, gratitude follows. When I focus on the grace my friends have for me, gratitude follows. How much more should gratitude follow an acknowledgment of God’s grace.

And I would think that requests are an automatic response when I am trying to live with a gentle nature. I am not inclined toward that. There are things in my life that get under my skin. I don’t always bring the right attitude and presence to a situation. It's also not a trait that (for guys, at least) that we hear praised that often. “You know what I want to be when I grow up? GENTLE!” I am going to need to make my requests known to God.

If we honestly commit to rejoicing and gentleness, the prayer will follow.

 

REJOICE IN THE LORD, CONSISTENTLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE, AND PRAY, AND THE PEACE OF GOD WILL STAND WATCH OVER YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS.

Every believer has come into an eternal peace with God through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.[3] However, not every believer necessarily experiences the peace of God. Peace with God is between us and God and made possible by Jesus – he does all the heavy lifting.

The peace of God what happens within us, and it is the fruit of our purposeful focus on Jesus, our commitment to walking in the footsteps of God with gentleness, and prayer that gives our anxieties over to a God even as we offer thanks for His grace. A commentator named Barnhouse has summarized this well:

Peace with God… is already the portion of all who are placed in Christ. But the peace of God comes afterwards to those who are willing to unconditionally surrender. How many unsaved people there are today who are in misery because they will not accept the peace with God that God made at the cross when He declared that the war was over and that sin was dealt with. And how many Christians are going to Heaven miserably because they are not willing to accept the riches of His grace and the wonders of His peace that He is so willing to give if we will only acknowledge Him as our Lord as well as our Savior.... Day by day, we are the objects of that love and grace, and, when we are surrendered to it, we shall be at peace.”

___________________________

[1] Look up these verses on biblehub.com and click on the ‘lexicon’ tab for a fuller explanation.

[2] I am pretty sure I got everything in this list from sources quoted at Precept Austin

[3] See Romans 5

The Peace Of God (Philippians 4:1-9)

During Communion we celebrate our peace with God that happens because of Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross. Today we are going to look at a portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippians that talks about the peace of God. Our text today is from Philippians 4:1-9: “For this reason, brothers and sisters, my joy and crown whom I dearly love, I cannot wait to see you again. Continue to stand firm in the Lord, and follow my instructions in this letter, beloved. Euodia and Syntyche, I urge you to put aside your differences, agree, and work together in the Lord. Yes, Syzygus, loyal friend, I enlist you to please help these women. They, along with brother Clement and many others, have worked by my side to spread the good news of the gospel. They have their names recorded in the book of life.

 Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice!  Keep your gentle, forbearing nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come.  And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.” (The Voice)

__________________________________

Euodia (Ee –oo’ –duh) and Syntyche (Syn’-tuh-kee) worked with Paul to spread the gospel; their names were written in the book of life (if this draws from the Roman culture, this was referring to a record of citizenship – in this case, in heaven). No one questioned that they followed Christ and labored together with Paul and others as sisters in Christ.

And they had issues. It doesn’t appear to be about doctrine or sin. It seems like…they just had trouble getting along. And it is serious enough that Paul asks a dude to intervene and help them resolve it.

Have you ever seen Christians argue? I mean people you really admire, people who you respect deeply because you are know they are committed to surrendering to and serving Christ – have you ever seen them just really butt heads over something and not be able to resolve their conflict? This has been a problem for 2,000 years.

  • It can have to do with church life issues that aren’t about doctrine but are just about the best way to build a healthy church.
  • It can just be personality clashes that aren’t about sin.
  • For the next eight months, politics is going to be a hot topic that causes disagreement among Christians.

If I am reading Paul correctly here, when this kind of differences of opinion or perspective boils over – when it becomes an emotional disagreement that breaks our fellowship - it will be a sign that we lack the peace of God in our life, and it creates turmoil within us that impacts those around us. I want to back that up by looking at the next paragraph in Philippians. Paul gives three things that need to be in place for us to find and experience the peace of God both within us and around us: Rejoice in the Lord, consistently live with a gentle (forbearing) nature, and pray so that the peace of God will stand watch over your hearts and minds.

REJOICE IN THE LORD

This isn’t just “don’t worry be happy.” This is to “consciously delight in God’s grace.”[1] In other words, this isn’t a joyfulness that comes because you have tried to have a better attitude or because the person causing you so much grief has suddenly done everything just like you want them to. This is a purposeful refocusing on the grace that Jesus Christ has offered to us by his death on the cross. If we are going to ‘consciously delight in God’s grace,’ it is vital that we have a clear and true understanding of God so that we truly understand God’s grace – which gives us reason to rejoice. So let’s go back to the two distortions of the faith Paul referenced in Philippians 3.

If we conceive of God as only a God of Law, we will constantly be proud or ashamed based on our merit, so we will not have peace within because we have forgotten God’s grace. And we will be constantly be comparing ourselves to others and either judging them or idolizing them, and there will not be peace around us. If we rejoice it will be in ourselves and our strength, not God or His grace.

If we conceive of God as a God who died to make us comfortable and give us worldly reward, we will associate earthly success with heavenly favor –and we will once again be proud or ashamed based on our merit, and will not have peace within us. And we will once again be constantly comparing ourselves to others and either judging them or idolizing them, and there will not be peace around us. If we rejoice once again it will be in ourselves and our strength, not God or His grace.

Either way, there will be discord within us and around us because our view of God and God’s grace is wrong. We will think we are walking in His footsteps when actually we are walking further away from God and from others. We must have a focused, purposeful view of God and His grace as manifested in the person and work of Christ.

REJOICE IN THE LORD, AND CONSISTENTLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE

When Paul writes about this gentleness, he chooses a word already in common use. If you read Bible commentaries, there is a LOT of discussion about what this means.[2]

  • A person who does not always insist on every right of law or custom.
  • A spirit or attitude that does not seek to retaliate.
  • An ability to extend to others the kindly consideration one would wish to receive themselves.
  • Not spineless, but selfless.
  • Mildness, gentleness, fairness, sweet reasonableness.
  • Not insistent on what is its due
  • Slow to take offence, and swift to forgive
  • Able to temper justice with mercy

Spurgeon once noted, “People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. Their minds are so sweetly occupied with higher things, that they are not easily distracted by the little troubles which naturally arise among such imperfect creatures as we are. Joy in the Lord is the cure for all discord.”

Now, they needed a mediator to help them navigate this. I don’t want to overlook the importance of Christian community is strengthening relationships. But they could have had the best mediator in the world, and if their hearts remained untouched, they would probably just keep revisiting a pattern of conflict and resolution over and over, if not between the two of them then with someone new.

So we rejoice in the Lord, we focus on the wonder of His loving grace, and the discord within us settles. Then our contribution to the discord around us settles. And so we follow in the footsteps of Jesus by living with gentleness and patience.

REJOICE IN THE LORD, CONSISTENLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE, AND PRAY

I would think that thankfulness is an automatic response to rejoicing. If we are focused on God’s grace, gratitude follows. When I focus on the grace my wife has for me, gratitude follows. When I focus on the grace my friends have for me, gratitude follows. How much more should gratitude follow an acknowledgment of God’s grace.

And I would think that requests are an automatic response when I am trying to live with a gentle nature. I am not inclined toward that. There are things in my life that get under my skin. I don’t always bring the right attitude and presence to a situation. It's also not a trait that (for guys, at least) that we hear praised that often. “You know what I want to be when I grow up? GENTLE!” I am going to need to make my requests known to God.

If we honestly commit to rejoicing and gentleness, the prayer will follow.

REJOICE IN THE LORD, CONSISTENTLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE, AND PRAY, AND THE PEACE OF GOD WILL STAND WATCH OVER YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS

Every believer has come into an eternal peace with God through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.[3] However, not every believer necessarily experiences the peace of God. Peace with God is between us and God and made possible by Jesus – he does all the heavy lifting.

The peace of God what happens within us, and it is the fruit of our purposeful focus on Jesus, our commitment to walking in the footsteps of God with gentleness, and prayer that gives our anxieties over to a God even as we offer thanks for His grace. A commentator named Barnhouse has summarized this well:

Peace with God… is already the portion of all who are placed in Christ. But the peace of God comes afterwards to those who are willing to unconditionally surrender. How many unsaved people there are today who are in misery because they will not accept the peace with God that God made at the cross when He declared that the war was over and that sin was dealt with. And how many Christians are going to Heaven miserably because they are not willing to accept the riches of His grace and the wonders of His peace that He is so willing to give if we will only acknowledge Him as our Lord as well as our Savior.... Day by day, we are the objects of that love and grace, and, when we are surrendered to it, we shall be at peace.”

________________________________

[1] Look up these verses on biblehub.com and click on the ‘lexicon’ tab for a fuller explanation.

[2] I am pretty sure I got everything in this list from sources quoted at Precept Austin

[3] See Romans 5

Walking In War (Ephesians 6:10-20)

"Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places. And this is why you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground."

Here we see individual responsibility in the midst of corporate unity. This is not like spiritual gifts or the “Five Fold Office” mentioned earlier in Ephesians where God gave “some” to be apostles, evangelists, etc. This is a clear call to all of us.

"Yes, stand—truth banded around your waist, righteousness as your chest plate, and feet protected so you are steadied by and ready to proclaim the good news of peace with God. Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how! And keeping all this in mind, pray on behalf of God’s people. Keep on praying feverishly, and be on the lookout until evil has been stayed. And please pray for me. Pray that truth will be with me before I even open my mouth. Ask the Spirit to guide me while I boldly defend the mystery that is the good news— for which I am an ambassador in chains—so pray that I can bravely pronounce the truth, as I should do."

 In Romans 13: 12-14, Paul writes, "Put on the armor of light… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." He was expanding on the words of Isaiah:

  • “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.” Isaiah 11:5
  • “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head” (Isaiah 59:17).

Paul talked other places about the nature of our fight. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. We destroy arguments…and take every thought captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:3- 5).

 Let’s be clear: God makes the armor. We ask for it, and He gives it, not because we are awesome, but because He is. Then we have to put it on.  Paul says, “It’s time to move. Put on that which God offers you for your good and His glory.”

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  • Put on: The Belt of Truth (aletheia, reality as opposed to illusion).
  • Stand For: The truth that God is real; Jesus was God in the Flesh; his life, death and resurrection bring us salvation, forgiveness and hope. If this is not true, “we are of all people most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
  • Stand Against: The error that Christianity is wishful thinking (“I want it to be true!”), merely human thoughts (“The Bible just shows us how people thought about God”), or only one way of many equally effective ways.
  • Put on: The Breastplate of Righteousness    (dikaiosune, right standing with God)
  • Stand For: The truth that it is only through Jesus Christ that we are absolved from the penalty of sin, freed from the power of sin, and guarded while in the presence of sin.
  • Stand Against: The error that we are born good (“I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way”), or that we can become righteous through our works .
  • Put on: The Shoes of Peace (eirene, peace with God; tranquility in salvation)
  • Stand For: The truth there is spiritual peace with God through our commitment to and ongoing life with Jesus Christ. This is not the same as saying that if you are a Christian, there will be peaceful coexistence of others on earth, or that you will always feel interior peace. This is a claim about a truth that is greater than our circumstances or our feelings. Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory.”
  • Stand Against: The error of false saviors (spiritual or material) and fleeting peace, which is usually some form of indulgence or avoidance. If something calms the chaos in our life no matter how little and how temporary, we tend to overindulge. Money? Sex? Being noticed and admired? Food? Vacations? Or if something brings anything unsettling, we avoid. People who annoy us…situations that aren’t just to our liking…a controlled environment (diet, exercise, social groups)
  • Put on: The Shield of Faith (pistis; “Trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of difficulties.” – Tim McGrew)
  • Stand For: The truth that there is wisdom in an ongoing trust in and response to God. A belief that the Bible matches the world.  We often think of faith as just trust in God. I think we have to include trust in God’s revelation. The Bible tells us that we are to be faithful in little things if we expect to be trusted in big things (Luke 16:10). But if the Bible is wrong, then God has not been faithful in little things. If you don’t understand the little things in the Bible, press in to them. Read. Study. Pray. Ask qualified, godly people for advice. Trusting that the biggest things are true in Christianity will trickle down; trusting that the smallest things in Christianity are true will build up.
  • Stand Against: The error that we should trust in Idols (self, hidden knowledge, politicians, the economy, health, pop psychology, etc).
  • Put on: The Helmet of salvation (soterios; saving)
  • Stand For: The truth of God's promises of eternal salvation and ongoing sanctification in Jesus Christ. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind… “ (Romans 12:2)   “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5) “…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
  • Stand Against: The error of gaining salvation from anything other than Christ, or evolving spiritually by thinking positively
  • Put on: The Sword of the Spirit (The Bible) 
  • Stand for: The truth of the power, trustworthiness and sufficiency of God's Word to tell us what we need to know about Christ and His plan for the world.     
  • Stand Against: The error of giving anything else equal weight in your spiritual formation; trusting outside sources or inner revelation over clear Biblical truth.

Note: In Bible times, there was no stainless steel. A sword unused became rusty, dull, and pitted. Swords were kept clean by frequent use or by honing them against a stone (the Rock of Ages) or another soldier’s sword. “Iron sharpeneth iron” (Proverbs 27:17)

  • Put on: Prayer (proseuchomai; literally, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes. “They Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  “Whatsoever you ask in my name…” (John 14:13) Accordingly, praying is closely inter-connected with pístis ("faith") in the NT. – (biblehub.com). In fact ,James 5 talks about the prayer of faith (“
  • Stand For: The truth that prayer is powerful and necessary. We are told to constantly pray (1 Thessalonians 5:16) “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
  • Stand Against: the error that prayer manipulates God or that prayer is unnecessary. God is not a machine. He’s not programmed in such a way that we can manipulate Him. God will answer prayer how he chooses to answer prayer. The prayers of the righteous are powerful, but not coercive. On the other hand, prayer is clearly not irrelevant. Part of being faithful is praying faithfully, and in the end praying what Jesus prayed: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

A final thought involving shields: We often read this individually: “You, Anthony! Stand!” But this letter was written to the churches in Ephesus. It’s a group command. Everyone then who saw the Roman army knew how this principle worked (see the cover of your bulletin). Now, in order for the group to stand, individuals need to stand to. It doesn’t absolve us. But it reminds us again of the importance of unifying around Christ, then standing against everything that comes against us – together.

Peace (To Those On Whom God's Favor Rests)

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“Glory to God in the Highest; and on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests.”  (Luke 2:14)

 When the angels appeared to the shepherds, they proclaimed a message of peace - but not peace to the whole world. This is very specific: peace to those who have God’s favor. So what is this favor? And what is this peace?

The shepherds were probably watching a temple flock as they watched them from a tower called the Midgal Eder, the 'watchtower of the flock,' a lookout and a place of refuge close to Bethlehem for their flocks in case of attack.  The priests maintained ceremonially clean stalls, and they carefully oversaw the birth of each lamb. The shepherds probably thought this angelic 'favor' was connected to their observance of the Law. Unfortunately, being ‘favored’  had not brought them the peace they were expecting.  There was hardly a more obvious reminder than the palace that cast a shadow over their tower.

Herod’s mountain fortress, the Herodian, overlooked the town of Bethlehem. According to Josephus, there were originally two hills standing next to each other. Herod paid thousands of workers to demolish one of the hills and level off the other.  He dug his palace into the top of the remaining hill. It contained a garden, reception hall, Roman baths, countless apartments,  an enormous pool, and a 600-foot-long terrace. Its buildings covered forty-five acres of land and were surrounded by nearly two hundred acres of palace grounds. The Herodion literally overshadowed the surrounding villages.

Keep in mind what this represented to the Jewish people.  Herod made his name when he smoked out Jewish refugees hiding in cliffside caves, pulled them out with long, hooked poles and dropped them down a cliff. When he laid siege to Jerusalem, his soldiers raped and slaughtered the women and children and chopped the soldiers to pieces.   When he saw that his death was near, he commanded his troops to execute other public figures when he died so people would mourn even if they did not mourn for him. 

It’s in this context that the angels proclaimed peace on earth to those on whom God’s favor rests. So the Jewish people were certain they were favored, but they sure hadn’t found peace. So what is this favor?  Where is the promised peace?

The proclamation clearly did not mean that peace would occur when Herod was dethroned or the Jewish people agreed on who the King of the Jews really was. It did not meant that schools were exempt from tragedy, hurricanes would disappear, or cancer would be cured. They announced a peace that could be found not around those who have God’s favor (though that happens too) but within those who have God’s favor. This ‘peace’ in Greek has the idea of wholeness, of having all the parts knit together. It's when heart, soul, mind and strength all love God. It's when our skin and soul are unified in purposeful, godly living.

This is not a promise of external calm. This is promise of internal stability. The Jewish people were expecting something to change in their political, religious or financial realities. But that was their definition. No wonder they were disillusioned and disappointed time and again.

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Skip ahead about seventy years after the birth of Christ. Paul was writing letters to the start-up churches helping them to better understand the true message of the gospel. When he wrote to the church in Ephesus, he was writing to a largely Gentile (pagan) audience. They were having trouble forming a church community with the Jewish converts. Paul lets them know that God has broken down the divide between God’s “chosen” people and the “unchosen” Gentiles. Here we begin to see an even clearer explanation of peace: 

 “Remember that at that time you (Gentiles) were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace…. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.“ (Ephesians 2:12-17)

What is peace?  Reconciliation with God through Christ, empowered by His Spirit.* 

In this case, it should end hostility between the Jewish and Gentile converts – but that’s the fruit of peace, not peace itself. That’s what peace looks like when it’s embodied, but it didn’t start there. It started at the cross, and moved inside. Only people full of peace within them can truly bring about peace around them.  We think of peace as the end of hostility, so we often start there: “Everybody stop fighting!”  That’s good…but it’s the veneer of peace. Peace begins within. When writing to the church in Galatia, Paul had more to say about peace:

“Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised… May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who live by this principle—they are the Israel (the chosen people) of God.” (Galatians 6:13-16)

Because Christ died, Paul has been made part of this new humanity. Anything good in him is because of the person and work of Christ. There are no “works” that can save him or give him worth. He understood God’s peace – he’d been reconciled with God through Christ and empowered by His Spirit, and now he had unshakeable identity. He understood mercy – a covenantal, compassionate love for others. Paul had been given much by grace; he would extend this principle to others. You can have this too (says Paul) if you live by this principle.

All that matters is that, through Christ crucified, we are made a “new creation.” That is what knits us together inside and makes us whole. That is the source of meaning, worth, and self-image.  Peace begins in us, not around us when we are in right relationship with Christ. Here’s how this looks practically.

  •     "You look like you are putting on weight!”  My body grows older. My boast is in Christ.
  •      “Where did you buy that!?”  My fashion taste is lousy. My boast is in Christ.
  •     “You have a dead-end job! Wow, you really wasted your Saturday!” My accomplishments are straw. My boast is in Christ.
  •     “How could you have forgotten that thing? How could you overlook that person?” I am not perfect. My boast is in Christ.
  •     “I can’t believe you haven’t heard of Mr. X or the latest international event!” I don’t know everything. My boast is in Christ.
  •      “You haven't gone anywhere cool, have you?” I don’t have much money. My boast is in Christ.
  •     “People are gossiping about you.” Let them. My boast is in Christ. 

There is great peace in being able to say, I am nothing on my own, but I am reconciled with God through Christ and empowered by His Spirit.  I will not fear my failures or worship my successes. He must increase and I must decrease. My boast is in Christ.”

Peace and mercy to all who live by this principle – they are the blessed children of God.

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* "New Testament The Greek word eirene corresponds to the Hebrew shalom expressing the idea of peace, well-being, restoration, reconciliation with God, and salvation in the fullest sense. God is “the God of peace” ( Romans 15:33 ; Philippians 4:9 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ;Hebrews 13:20 ). The Gospel is “the good news of peace” (Ephesians 6:15 ; Acts 10:36 ) because it announces the reconciliation of believers to God and to one another (Ephesians 2:12-18 ). God has made this peace a reality in Jesus Christ, who is “our peace.” We are justified through Him (Romans 5:1 ), reconciled through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20 ), and made one in Him (Ephesians 2:14 ). In Him we discover that ultimate peace which only God can give (John 14:27 ). This peace is experienced as an inner spiritual peace by the individual believer (Philippians 4:7 ; Colossians 3:15 ; Romans 15:13 ). It is associated with receptiveness to God's salvation (Matthew 10:13 ), freedom from distress and fear (John 14:27 ; John 16:33 ), security (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 ), mercy (Galatians 6:16 ; 1 Timothy 1:2 ), joy (Romans 14:17 ; Romans 15:13 ), grace (Philippians 1:2 ; Revelation 1:4 ), love (2 Corinthians 13:11 ;Jude 1:2 ), life (Romans 8:6 ), and righteousness (Romans 14:17 ; Hebrews 12:11 ; James 3:18 ). Such peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22 ) that forms part of the “whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11,Ephesians 6:11,6:13 ), enabling the Christian to withstand the attacks of the forces of evil. Thus, the New Testament gives more attention to the understanding of spiritual peace as an inner experience of the individual believer than does the Old Testament. In both the Old and the New Testament, spiritual peace is realized in being rightly related—rightly related to God and rightly related to one another."

 

 

From the Holman Bible Dictionary. “Peace, Spiritual.” www.studylight.org

Letter to a Corinthianized Church

About 2,000 years ago, Corinth was a financial, religious, and cultural mecca.

  • It was a major commercial hub located on a four-and-one-half mile wide isthmus of land. Sailors wanted to avoid the danger of sailing around Malea, so they would move their ship across the isthmus on a series of log rollers. If the ship was too large, the cargo was unloaded and loaded onto another ship on the other side of the isthmus.
  • “Corinthian brass” (a mixture of gold, sliver and copper) was widely renowned. 
  • Athletic contests known as the Isthmian Games - second only to the Olympian Games - were held at the temple of Poseidon in Corinth every two years. 
  • Athena, Apollo, Poseidon, Hermes, Isis, Serapis, and Asclepius, among others, had temples to their honor in Corinth. It was common to have feasts in those temples – they were very much a center of community.
  • Aphrodite had more than 1,000 hierodouloi (female prostitutes and priestesses) in her service. The present museum in Corinth boasts a large number of clay emblems offered to Aphrodite for healing of a particulular part of the body ravaged by sexually transmitted disease. 
  • The name “Corinthian" had become synonymous with sexual immorality and drunkenness. Aelian, a Greek writer, noted that Corinthians in Greek plays were always drunk.

     Gordon Fee summarized it well: "All of this evidence together suggests that Paul’s Corinth was at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world: Intellectually alert, materially prosperous, but morally corrupt.”
     They had money, business, athletic prowess, temple worship involving sex and free food – it was just one big party in Corinth.
   The book of I Corinthians was written to a church living in a culture similar to ours. When the Apostle Paul wrote to them, their primary problem was not persecution. They were a church in lap of luxury, full of people who had been Corinthianized from birth, but who were now trying to begin a new life in Christ.
     Why am I not surprised that, only five years after he left, the Corinthians wrote Paul a letter asking for advice.
1 Corinthians records his response.

1 Corinthians 1:1-3 

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

     Paul begins by reminding them that they have been sanctified (hagios – “called out”) and called to holiness (agios – once again “called out”). God had pulled them from darkness to light, from being like Corinth to being like Christ. They clearly weren't to leave the city or shun their neighbors, but they were different now in attitudes, priorities, passions, loves, hopes and dreams.
     It’s not easy to be the “called out” counter-cultural ones, so Paul reminds them that they are not alone: they are part of the ekklesia, the assembly, the church. They are not alone.
    Then Paul gives a blessing that we read numerous times in Scripture.

  • Grace (favor, joy, pleasure. The image of God “leaning in”).  God is for them.  God is not anxious to judge, or petty, or requiring them to self-destruct in order to worship like they had before. They did not need to merit this kind of favor.  Because He loved them, God was interested in and engaged with their lives. In the midst of a city where favor was earned and pleasure was fleeting, Paul says, "May God give you grace."
  • Peace (wholeness; unity; quiet and rest).  In the midst of where business, chaos, idol worship and temple revelry brought fragmented souls and shattered lives, Paul says, "May God give you peace."

     "Grace to you" was a standard Greek greeting; "Peace" was  the Jewish blessing of "Shalom." Though the church contained both groups, Paul didn't say, "Grace to you Gentiles, and peace to you Jews." The entire church community was to receive God’s grace and peace.
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1 Corinthians 1:4-6 
"I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus, For in Him you have been enriched in every way —with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge — God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 

     Apparently when God through His grace “leaned in,” He spoke a lot through His Word and His people. The knowledge they had gained in the five years since Paul had visited has  thoroughly confirmed what Paul said about Christ.

   
God had enriched their lives by filling them with the knowledge of Him. But knowledge was not the point:
     Because of God's grace, He has enriched them and confirmed Himself to them. For that reason, they did not lack any spiritual gift.
     That’s quite a statement. (We will see later in 1 Corinthians why Paul makes this point at the beginning. A lot of division had begun within the church as people followed one particular leader or wanted one particular gift).  Paul begins 1 Corinthians by saying, “How amazing is it that you, as a unified church, the ekklesia, have been so blessed by God (grace) that you are rich and lack nothing (peace)?”
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1 Corinthians 1: 8-9 
He will sustain you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

     While reading and re-reading this opening in preparation for a sermon, I couldn't get rid of the nagging thought that more was being communicated here than simply a reiteration of facts. After all, the church apparently heard plenty of speeches and had gained a lot of knowledge. They knew this. Why would Paul need to remind people:

  • that there will be a day when they are blameless? 
  • that God is faithful?
  • that they are called into fellowship with Jesus Christ?
  • that they are holy and sanctified?
  • that there are others like them?
  • that they are spiritually rich?
  • that they have spiritual gifts?
  • that Jesus is returning?

Because they are people. They are just like us. In spite of being given grace and peace, they didn’t always feel God “leaning in.” They didn't always feel whole, complete, and at peace.  We are not so different today, in the modern American Corinth full of business, money, luxury, ease, and 21st century gods of sex, pleasure, and indulgence.

  • We don’t live like we are “called out,” and we're not sure we want to ignore those alluring cultural sirens.  
  • We think money = wealth.
  • We think pleasure=happiness.
  • We think sex=love.
  • We know we are not blameless, and we wonder how we ever will be.
  • We don’t feel “in fellowship” with Jesus. God seems distant, or even absent. 
  • We wonder if God will give up on us, because so many people around us have rejected us. 
  • We feel like we are alone in the world. 
  • We wonder, in the midst of overwhelming despair, if God will ever make things right. 

     In his letter to the Corinthian/American church, Paul with a hopeful yet poignant reminder: “You truly do have fellowship with Christ. In spite of your weariness, He will sustain you;  others may forsake you, but He will “lean in” with gifts of grace and peace; your sins may seem insurmountable, but one day you will know what it is like to never be worthy of blame, and you will be truly free.”
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For those of us who are tired.

For those of us who struggle to be holy in the Corinth of our time, so easily distracted and engaged by the American gods of money, sex, and entertainment.

For those of us who are covered with shame and blame.

For those of us who feel alone and unwanted.

For those of us who feel like we have nothing to offer because God has given us nothing.

For those of us who don’t feel like God is near.

For those of us who lose sight of the hopefulness of Christ’s return, because so many things are broken that it’s hard to believe that one He will make all things new.

Grace and Peace. 
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Jason Gray, “Remind Me Who I Am”



Finding Stability in a Turbulent World

     The time: 52 AD, twenty years after Christ died and rose again to life.  Paul, writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit,  writes this second book to his dear friends at the church in Thessalonica --- a church he had helped to start (ref. Acts 17:1-10).  Paul has received a report about how they were currently doing. 
     The truth is, this community of believers is being hammered --- subjected to persecution from outsiders because of their newfound faith, and frightened by insiders who brought misleading messages (false teachings) about the Lord’s return.  And as is common to mankind, the believers in this young church moved toward a couple of different extremes.  I still see these extremes exhibited today when confusion sets in.
     Here are the two extremes:
  • Lethargy (or adjective: lethargic) ~ Definition: state of sluggishness, inactivity, and apathy. These folks carry on life as usual with no recognition of the turbulent situation around them, nor the things that God has said about this life that they are living. The lethargic person has no driving purpose and is content to simply let things happen.  Paul will address this in his letter.
  •  Panic  (or adjective: panic-stricken)  ~  Definition: afraid / anxious / fearful / petrified / immobilized / terrified.This group of people exhibited irrational responses to the troubling circumstances all around them.  They overreact…and in so doing, ignore God’s promises and guidance. 

     Both kinds of extremes are being exhibited in the Thessalonian church…so Paul begins his letter by approbating them for their faith….but then he also addresses the false beliefs that they are listening to --- false beliefs about the Lord’s second coming --- and as the letter goes on he gives them reminders to calm their fears. Let’s look at the scripture text.  We’ll see in Paul’s letter, a three-fold purpose:   
1) To encourage them in their steadfastness under persecution
2) To correct their misunderstanding about the imminence of the Lord's return. 
3) To instruct the congregation on what disciplinary action to take toward those who became idle.
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1) To encourage them in their steadfastness under persecution
2 Th. 1:4, 5  (NASB) therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. 5 This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.

Verses 4 and 5constitute one thought and must be read in that way.  The two words that begin verse 5 (“this is”) were added by translators to help make the sentences flow and read better, but in doing they also made it possible to miss the point of Paul’s message if we’re not careful. Read again without those two words:

2 Th. 1:4, 5  (NASB) therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure, a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.

     The Greek text simply refers to their suffering as - “an evidence or sure token of God’s righteous judgment --- proof, as the result of a test.” And it doesn’t say that the suffering makes us worthy….only the shed blood of Christ and our faith acceptance of His forgiveness makes us worthy.  The verse simply says that our patient suffering is an indication (or proof) of our already having been made worthy (and this brings Him glory).What was the suffering? Paul uses two words here: “persecutions” and “afflictions.”
  • Persecutionsis diogmos, a word used primarily of religious persecution, and describes the hostile actions of others.
  • Afflictionsis thlipsis, “pressure, stress, tribulation, affliction.”  The first is a special term for external persecutions inflicted by enemies of the gospel; the second is more general, and denotes tribulation of any kind.

     Why were they suffering? They were suffering because they believed in the Lord Jesus.  They believed that Jesus would come again.  And they believed that he would set up his own kingdom.  Now, we have to remember, they lived in a hostile environment.  Rome originally thought that Christianity was simply an offshoot of Judaism, and Rome had a long history of tolerating Judaism. 
But as time went on it became more and more clear that Christianity was a force to be reckoned with, and that its followers saw it as a kingdom….one that had a King.  This allegiance had all sorts of ramifications in this part of the world.  They were destined for a clash of kingdoms. Nevertheless, these Thessalonian Christians were suffering in quiet patience. The result of all this persecution was to make their faith in God so much stronger. The writers were so impressed and pleased by this that they wanted everyone to know about it.
    Paul tells the readers in verse 5 that their patient endurance is “a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.” We don’t learn to trust God in the tough places of life by simply reading about suffering or being told about suffering. We have to suffer. Suffering is a necessary tool.  It was so for Jesus – It was so for the Thessalonians – and it is so for us, today. (See list of scripture references at end.)
     In the plains of the Serengeti,in southeast Africa, about the only thing that grows are gnarly old Acacia trees or bushes. These don’t provide very straight arrow shafts for the little Bushmen that inhabit the plains, so they’ve formulated an ingenious process to keep their quivers full.
First they go out and find a suitable branch; it doesn’t matter if it’s got a 30-degree angle in it, just so it’s the proper thickness and length. Next they’ll build a fire, and right beside the fire they’ll drive two rows of pegs into the ground, about six to eight inches apart. Then they’ll put the branch into the fire to get its juices flowing making it pliable.
     When it’s hot enough, they’ll fish it out of the fire and jam it between the two rows of pegs and let it cool. It’s a little straighter. Then back to the fire, back to the pegs, back to the fire, back to the pegs … until finally the pegs are right next to each other, with only an arrow’s width between them. When the bushman pulls it out this last time, he’s got a perfectly straight arrow that’s useful to its maker.
We like the words in scripture about being “useful to the maker,” but it’s the fire and that bending we’d just as soon avoid.  If we want to be made useful, though, we’ve got to receive the hard part along with the easy part.
    I think in our delight of understanding the new life Christ gives and the new creature He’s made of us, we skipped over some parts…the hard parts...and as a result, we’re not seeing the success in our lives we’d hoped for as followers of Christ. This current turbulent time in which we live --- a time with growing hostility toward people who hold sincere faith in God --- will likely give us some unique opportunities to demonstrate the depth of our faith in God by the way in which we endure persecution and live well for all to see.
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2) To correct their misunderstanding about the imminence of the  Lord's return.
     The Thessalonians had some strange ideas about the return of Christ.  Some said that the Lord had already come.  Others thought that the Lord would come “at any moment,” suddenly, without warning.  But Paul reminds them that there are things that must happen before Christ returns.  I’m going to read a passage from 2nd Thessalonians, chapter two, and make comment as I go along.  (ch. 2, verses 1-12)
2 Th. 2:1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

     This suggests that those who were bothering the church with the false information were making three distinct claims as to its source.  The first“either by a spirit” --- Some were claiming to have been given a prophetic word given by the Spirit of God.  However, as Paul pointed out, these “words” could not have been from God because they were not in keeping with the Old Testament, nor what they had heard from Paul in his previous teachings.
     The secondsource, “nor by a word”, refers to something said, not by way of prophecy, but simply from one person to another. It may have been just someone’s opinion in view of the current living conditions, or perhaps they claimed to be relaying a verbal message from Paul or one of his companions.
     Then, thirdly, “nor by a letter”….the final source of the false teaching. Someone had evidently forged a letter, claiming it was from Paul and his associates, but it was in direct contradiction to what Paul had repeatedly taught them, both in person and by letter (again, see 2:15).
     Today, all threeof these (spirit/word/letter) are appearing and will likely increase.  You can count on it! One reason is….we may well be in the end times (or, “end times of the end times”).  There continue to be disturbing events globally, that seem to point to that “end time” conclusion.  In addition, Satan is ever at work attempting to confuse and disturb the clear, historic, reliable message of God, concerning the end time events.
     Day of the Lord: refers to the Lord’s end time day of judgment --- for believers, it will be a day of blessing --- for the wicked, however, the Day of the Lord will bring judgment, destruction, and terror.  In light of this understanding of the term, it’s easy to see why the folks in the church in Thessalonica were upset.
3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it (the day of the Lord) will not come unless the apostasy comes first, (I’ll define some of these words at the end of the passage) and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? 6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8 And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
     So, here is what Paul is saying (it’s actually a reminder of previous teaching he had brought them): TWO THINGS must occur before the “day of the Lord” comes. The first is the apostasy…or the rebellion; not just any rebellion, but THE rebellion. Not merely disbelieving in God’s message, but rather an aggressive and positive revolt.
1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from what we believe; they will follow lying spirits and teachings that come from demons.  2 These teachers are hypocrites and liars. They pretend to be religious, but their consciences are dead. ….

     The day of the Lordwill not be present until this great apostasysweeps the earth.  This rebellion, which will take place within the church, will be a departure from the truth that God has revealed in His Word.
     And then the secondphenomenon necessary for the day of the Lord to be present is the revealing of one whom Paul called, “the man of lawlessness,” and “the son of destruction.”  This person is the one known elsewhere in the New Testament by the term, the antichrist (see John’s writings, 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). 
     From time to time, evil men have appeared in the world, and some may even have been called antichrists --- Antiochus Epiphanes, Nero, Diocletian, even Hitler --- but when THIS antichrist appears, there will be no question! 
      He will be the personification of evil and the culmination of all that is opposed to God.  He will be Satan’s tool, opposing both God and Christ, but he’ll also be presented as one who is to be worshipped and obeyed in place of Christ. The presence of this apostasy and counterfeit god will NOT be hidden.  The entire world will observe it. And unless these things are occurring….the day of the Lord has not arrived.
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3) Instructing the congregation on what disciplinary action to take  toward those who became idle.
     Some of the Thessalonian Christians had given up their work and depended on their friends to keep them and feed them.  They figured, since the Lord is coming soon….why do ANYTHING?  Paul gave instruction regarding this in his first letter. (1Th. 5:14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly.) {other translations say the idle, or lazy}
     This is a difficult situation --- The New Testament DOES teach the imminent (any-moment) possibility of the return of the Savior for His church No one knows when He will return.  It could be today, but it might not be.  And this has been the case for hundreds of years. The principle is that we are to live as though it will be today, while working and continuing on in life as though it won’t be for years to come. So how do we do this?  How do we posture ourselves in a turbulent world?
     Paul gives a couple significant clues!  In 2:10 he says, “they did not love the truth so as to be saved.”  Survival in these difficult times is not merely an issue of knowing or believing something in a merely mental sense --- it is an issue of loving!  We must become lovers, both of God….but also of His truth. And then, finally, we’re encouraged to live in Grace and Peace, at the beginningof the letter, and again at the close:
1:2 grace and peace come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3:16  Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!
3:18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
When we live in the love of the truth we don’t drift into lethargy…nor to we fall prey to panic.  We are, instead, kept focused and useful as we wait for His return.
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Additional references on suffering, enduring, etc.
Heb. 2:10; Heb 12:7; 1 Peter 2:19, 20; 1 Peter 4:12; Rev. 1:9; 1 Cor. 4:12;  2 Tim. 2:3; 2 Tim 4:5; 2 Cor. 4:17-18

The Path to Peace

James 4:4-5 “You have committed spiritual adultery against God!  Don’t you know that the love of this world’s pleasures is an act of hostility against God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the corruption of the world becomes an enemy of God.  Do you think that the Scripture was lying  about this, or that the Holy Spirit which dwells in us wants us to envy others instead of being contented with the provision of God in our lives?”

Envy is an ugly thing.  It eats away at our should while tearing apart our community.  It manifests itself in mean gossip, destructive whispering, and petty complaints.  We want and want and want more - often specifically what someone else has.  More often than not, envious people are pretty sure the problem is that they just haven't received what should have been coming to them.  "I deserve better!" may not be spoken aloud, but it is certainly believed.

Here is a transformative principle:  Our community life is connected to our spiritual life. The way I treat people reflects they way I view God.The way I view God will be expressed in the way I treat others. If there is ongoing tension and disruption in church life, perhaps the issue is a spiritual one.

Let’s be clear: some conflicts are genuine and needed.  If there is disagreement about whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, or  if clear issues of moral behavior are right or wrong, then conflict can be necessary and hopefully redemptive. In fact, sometimes the phrase “I deserve better” is true; abuse victims truly do need saving.

This is not what James is talking about when he writes about envy and the role it plays in destroying communities. He is talking about:

the petty bickering,
the simmering undercurrents of hostility,
the unresolved, unending tension that keeps cropping up in church
   life,
the feuds that fester,
the rumor that someone won’t let die,
the reputation that keeps coming up to the embarrassment of the one
  who once failed,
the muttered remarks meant to shame those blessed by God with
  obvious success….

We don’t have to actually steal stuff and kill people to take from them what is rightfully theirs and destroy their lives.  We can do it with words, attitudes, and emotions too. James’ words on this subject are hard and demanding: You have a tough time living well in community because something bad has happened to your relationship with God.

But there is good news:

James 4:6-10 “God’s lavish grace enables us to resist the temptations and bear the trials of life with humility and trust, knowing that God’s Holy Spirit has said, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  So, submit yourselves to God; resist the devil (who would tempt you to envy) and he will flee from you; walk closely to God, and God will be close to you.

If you want inner contentment and community peace, there is a way:  resist temptation, repent, live a life of humility, and remain in submission to God.

A couple weeks ago Madonna sang during half time of the Superbowl.  As the last notes faded, the phrase "World Peace" appeared on the field. That's a great goal, but I wonder: does her plan include resisting temptation, being humble, repenting, and submitting to God?

We want peace in ourselves, our families, our church.  That's a great goal too. Does our plan include resisting temptation, being humble, repenting, and submitting to God?

If not, peace will remain elusive. If we are willing to do these things, “The Lord will lift us up.”