Christianity 201

December 6, 2021

Peace Which Transcends Human Understanding

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have a new writer to share with you who calls herself and her site, The 5th Sparrow. For 30 minutes today I sat down and looked inside the window of her life as reflected through her blog, and once we were committed to share this today, I found the closed thing to an “about” page through an article called This Is Us, Again. To summarize, it details a number of physical and cognitive challenges faced by both her two sons, and herself.

All of which for me made her writing that much more impactful.

In the end, I chose her most recent article to be representative of her writing. I trusting you’ll click the header which follows and then take a few minutes to also look into the window of a family that is probably different from yours.

Peace

NLT.Phil.4.6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

The second week of Advent focuses on peace. What first comes to mind when you read or hear this word? Maybe the iconic dove with an olive branch? A beautiful winter scene complete with quiet streets and falling snow? Ocean waves lapping at the shore or a mountain brook bubbling through a small clearing? Maybe a symbol made popular in the 60’s? Or maybe something more personal perhaps? A treasured memory, safe family and home, good news at work, even better news from the doctor…

What if I told you there was a peace available that is stronger, purer, and more abundant than all those things put together? What if I told you it is possible to have peace even when everything around us is no where close to being peaceful? Are you sick, broken, worn down? Did you lose your job? Are you struggling to keep up in school? Do you have more things in need of repair than your bank account has the finances to cover? Is your home more of a war zone than a safe shelter? Do you struggle with uncontrollable emotions and thoughts? You can still have peace!

It’s true, if we are talking about the peace of Christ. Peace that surpasses all understanding. It makes no sense! It doesn’t fit the narrative of everything else going on in our life at the moment. It seems impossible! That though is the beauty of it. It is impossible, but Christ makes the impossible possible for those that put their hope and their trust in Him, for those willing to rest in His arms and lay their burdens and worries at His feet.

Because of Christ, when I think about peace these days I think about a water heater. A very specific one, that’s barely a year and a half old. One that has been broken now for the past two and a half weeks with still no solution in site. I remember when I first heard the words “we think it’s cancer” shortly before I found myself in a whirlwind of preparations for emergency surgery, including putting together legal papers with instructions on what to do with my sons if I were not to make it. Memories flood in of being locked away in a place I didn’t belong while in a foreign country, fighting for safety and a way home while growing a small child inside. Filling my pillow with tears, yet my day with song just to try and hold on to my sanity.

Why in the world would I associate these things with peace?? It’s not that I enjoyed the fear of foreign oppressors I couldn’t even understand half the time due to language barriers. Being rushed to a hospital for a blood transfusion just to make me stable enough for the life saving surgery I just found out I needed wasn’t any fun either. Don’t get me started on trying to stay clean with nothing but cold water for weeks. Brrr! Definitely nothing peaceful about any of that!

No, I associate those things with peace because I look to Christ for it instead of at my life (2 Corinthians 4:18, Colossians 3:2). These things remind me of how Christ continuously steps in to calm the storm inside my heart and mind even as the waves crash around me. He has provided for me in ways I will never be able to fully explain and has taken care of my needs in more ways than I can count even when all looked bleak. When we look to Christ, He offers us a peace that isn’t like anything the world can offer (John 14:27, Isaiah 26:3). He promises to give us rest and to share our burdens (Isaiah 40:28-31, 43:2, Isaiah 41:10, 1 Peter 5:7) and that He will never leave us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 46:4).

He invites us to bring all we’ve got to Him. All of our hurts, hang-ups, fears, joys, celebrations, tears, frustration, excitedness, anger, doubt… He can handle it and He wants us to bring it to Him! He longs to come alongside us and share His yoke with us so He can help shoulder the load, not just in the good times, but also in the bad ones. Along with that invitation, He also delivers a promise to provide the peace that surpasses all understanding. The peace that makes no sense, but is ever so badly needed in our hearts and lives. If we remember to come to Him with what’s in our hearts or what is filling our heads, being grateful for Who He is and all He has done and has promised to do, He will fill us with His peace to help guard our hearts and minds in Christ (Philippians 4:6,7). That doesn’t mean all our problems and worries will disappear, but it does mean we have a safe shelter from the storm when we need Him.

That is what comes to my mind when I think of peace.

December 25, 2017

The Gift of Peace

Like many of you, I was sitting at a Christmas Eve service thinking about Jesus as the Prince of Peace, no doubt inspired by a reading of Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

I started thinking about the chorus of the song below. The song has an entirely different purpose, I doubt William D. Cornell had Christmas in view at the time of its composition. Nonetheless, the coming of Christ ushered in the opportunity for all of us to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit who brings us the peace the songs speaks about.

Peace! peace! wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above;
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray,
In fathomless billows of love.

On a day where we focus on the beginning of the account of Christ incarnate, we tend not to focus on the end of the story. In my early 20s, I had a poster in my room with these words,

The Father gave authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit, with the results you are now seeing.

This a paraphrase of Acts 2:33.

At the very, very end; when atonement had been purchased and death had been conquered, we see Jesus in his final moments with his disciples in John 20:21 and 22 and there again is a reference to peace.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

For many of us this has not been a peaceful year. Many of you would echo the words of the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

For you and for me I would wish the words of the song that follows.

Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray,
In fathomless billows of love.

October 10, 2015

Running on Your Strength, Not God’s

Romans 8:13 For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.…

Today we pay a return visit to Zech Newman, who we’ve featured here before. In general, his blog is directed toward business entrepreneurs, but from a decidedly Christian perspective. In that world, “hustle” is the name of the game. It’s in that context that he wrote the following this summer; click the link below to read at source, and pass this site on to a business owner who might appreciate reading it regularly.

4 Signs You’re Into Works of the Flesh

There is a difference between hustling really hard and getting into works of the flesh. I am sure that like me you want to not only include God in your dreams and aspirations, but you want to do what He has for your life. It is quite simple to slip into works of the flesh and try to do things on our own strength. Heck it’s not just easy, but natural to operate in the works of the flesh. What feels unnatural to us is being led by the Spirit. Although this feels unnatural it is the only way to have true peace.

Getting into works of the flesh is a common problem for all of us. It is not cut and dry because you can be Spirit led and work really hard and can also barely work and be into works of the flesh. To help you on your journey here are 4 signs you’re into works of the flesh.

1. Out of priority. The moment we get out of alignment is a sign that we are into the flesh. Your priorities should be God, then spouse, kids, the body, and then your career. This is a life priority, not a time allocation. When you notice that you are out of priority quickly realign your life back into “balance.”

2. Jealousy/comparing. Both of these go hand in hand with each other. We compare to show how we are better than someone else or we compare to show how we are more “spiritual” than someone else. Comparing your hustle or work to others is a sure-fire sign that you are operating in the flesh. It is hard for me to not get into comparison and jealously. I often struggle with the thought of, “What does he have that I don’t?” When I have a thought like this, I am focused on myself and not on Christ.

3. Loss of peace. One of the attributes of being plugged into Christ is peace. No matter what the storm is in your life you can have peace. It is overwhelming and passes understanding, however, it is ever-present when you are plugged into the vine. It is an impossible peace to describe until you encounter it when everything around you is falling apart.

4. Mental weariness. When you are operating in the flesh you are trying to figure things out and rationalize life. The ways of God will not always make sense. Mental weariness comes in when we try to “figure it out.” Trusting God is moving when He says move and not going around and around in your mind. Get off the mar-a-go-round in your mind and trust God!

Galatians 5:19-21 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

In the end, the moment we start to get frustrated is the point at which we move from working in the Spirit to working in the flesh. You can be working 100 hours in a week and be working in the Spirit or you can be working ten hours a week and be working in the flesh. Being led by God will have fruit that is of God. Not fruit of strife and confusion. If you are off the path get back on with Jesus.  Be blessed on your journey.

How do you recognize when you need to readjust? 


Go Deeper: Here is a message outline at Sermon Central on knowing the 17 Works of the Flesh (3 pages)

 

 

May 7, 2014

The Church Behind Closed Doors

NRSV John 20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Early Church 1

Our featured writer today is Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon whose “Shrunk Sermons” appear weekly on his blog. You’re encouraged (as always!) to read this at source where it appeared as The Church Behind Locked Doors.

The doors are locked. Locked from the inside by the disciples out of fear of the religious leaders. It is a scary time with Jesus so recently crucified and the women besides themselves with the strange news that He has risen. But for now there is no celebration, just confusion, wondering, and locked doors.

That could an apt description of the church in Canada. Confusion, wondering, and hiding behind locked doors. Locked doors? How so you ask? We hide behind locked doors when:

  • we consider religion and faith as a private matter.
  • we fear turning people off by being open about our faith.
  • we leave speaking to people about Jesus to the “professionals.”
  • all our friends are Christians, and all events we attend are Christian.
  • we immerse ourselves in a thoroughly Christian subculture.
  • fear over our reputation overpowers our courage.

And so while there is no need for we Canadian Christians to fear for our lives like the disciples, or like many disciples around the world today, we can all too easily hide behind locked doors. Is there hope that we can get out?

Despite the fear and the locked doors the disciples are on the verge of a turning point. Fear will be replaced with courage, the huddled group will be out and about. Though it will be Pentecost, several weeks later, before that turn is complete, it begins here in this moment behind locked doors. What makes this change possible?

The Presence of Jesus. It begins with Jesus, oblivious to all doors locked or otherwise, standing before the disciples. He says “Peace be with you” (John 2-:19 NRSV). Given that the disciples deserted Jesus not too many days before, Jesus’ greeting would be encouraging, a sign of forgiveness. “After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:20 NRSV). Seeing the wounds, there could be no doubt that yes, this really is Jesus, back from the dead. But those wounds say more than that. It is as if Jesus is saying “You have your doors locked out of fear of what they will do to you? Look what they did to me, and yet look at what they could not do to me! I am not dead, but alive!” That’s encouraging and a reason for courage.

The Task. Next we hear of an incredible task: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’” (John 20:21 NRSV). The implication of this is clear, the doors will need to be unlocked. Not so that people can get in, but so that the disciples can get out with the incredible message of Jesus. A massive change will need to take place.

The Gift. Next an incredible gift is given to enable that change: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22 NRSV). We are to be reminded here of the creation of humanity when God breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7) and so are to think of the creation of a new humanity, in perfect relationship with God and with God’s creation. Think back to that time of dwelling with God in the garden. There is no need for locked doors there. Nor here now.

The Responsibility. But finally we read of an incredible responsibility: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23 NRSV). Now some will read this in a far too black and white fashion and will question what role we could have in forgiveness when the forgiveness of sin is God’s work. Yes it is, but the point shines through loud and clear, God will use His people in a significant way to help people become aware of that forgiveness He offers. This will go beyond the declaration of God’s offer of forgiveness, though, yes, that is supremely important, to modelling forgiveness and demonstrating how grace works. It will not be long before a Jesus follower, Stephen, will be doing just that as his last words echo the words of Jesus from the cross: “Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died (Acts 7:60 NRSV) Such incredible grace would never have been seen had Stephen kept himself safe and sound behind locked doors. Forgiveness does not work very well when we are huddled together behind locked doors but works best when we are rubbing shoulders with people who will hurt us.

There is hope that we as Canadian Christians can get out from behind our locked doors. But it will not happen if we are not with Jesus experiencing His forgiveness and peace. It will happen when we hear the call, receive the Spirit, and realize the awesome responsibility and privilege that comes with being forgiven. Do you have some doors to unlock?