Christianity 201

December 27, 2013

Peace on Earth

This article is by Dan Miller and appeared at the blog Sharper Iron, from which an article by a different writer appeared here on December 13th. There is much good reading at this site, I don’t think we’ve ever visited the same webpage twice in one month! Click here to read today’s article at source.

The gospel according to Luke records that on the night of Jesus’ birth an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in a field outside the Judean village of Bethlehem. The angel announced “good news of great joy” which included the benediction: “Peace on earth” (Luke 2:10, 14).

Peace had come to earth in a person. The “Prince of Peace,” prophesied centuries earlier by the prophet Isaiah had come (Isaiah 9:6). In a mystery never to be fully fathomed, the “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father” was born a child with flesh and blood to dwell on earth for a season (Isaiah 7:149:6; John 1:14). And as the Bible repeatedly demonstrates, whenever the living God comes to dwell among his people, he always brings peace.

But what is peace? The word is not difficult to define. Peace is the calm that prevails in the absence of war. It is the serenity that marks freedom from hostilities, strife or dissension. Peace is a paucity of agitation, upheaval or chaos. Although used in an array of contexts, the definition is fairly straightforward.

Peace is far more difficult to identify and experience. There is peace which is really no peace at all. False peace shatters many lives and poisons many souls. There is peace in the midst of hostility—peace that operates at full throttle in the war zones of human experience. There is peace as ethical responsibility. There is peace we desperately want, but can do nothing to attain.

In the midst of a holiday season in which peace is commonly announced but too seldom experienced, a few spiritual reflections on peace may be fitting. Many draw their understanding of peace from self-determined assumptions; I offer here meditations rooted in biblical revelation. The peace on earth announced by the angelic messengers to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth was rooted in God’s grand salvation plan. That concept of peace included several components.

Peace as an attribute of God. God is the source of all peace. Peace flows freely from his being. God executes and finishes wars, he does not start them. He is not a pugnacious God who is always looking to pick a fight. God is a God of peace who will not rest until peace reigns on earth. This goal requires war (Rev. 19:11-20:15). Yet war is a necessary consequence of sin, not a product of God’s nature.

Peace as a gift of God. The ultimate war is between sinful people and God. In his boundless grace, God issues his moral law for the good of humanity. For our good, he commands us not to cheat, steal or lie; not to yield to lust, pride, greed or gossip. He commands us to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as we love ourselves. But we respond to God’s law by running our own way and doing our own thing. This rebellion renders us enemies of God in his perfect righteousness and renders us objects of his just judgment (Rom. 5:6-8).

But in his mercy, God provides justification—imputing the righteous standing of Christ to the account of those who trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection to secure their salvation from the punishment of their sin. Jesus bears the penalty of our sin and dies in our place; we receive his righteous standing and live. What is the result? “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1-2). This is the quintessential peace on which all other experiences of peace ultimately depend.

Peace as an ethical responsibility in relation to others. Those who receive the gift of peace with God are called to pursue peace with others. This is not always possible, but as far as lies within us, we are to be peacemakers on earth (Matt. 5:9Rom. 12:18). The peace God gives at the cost of sacrificing his Son serves as the ultimate motivation for his followers to seek peace in all their relationships.

Peace as a disposition of the soul. Believers who have received the peace of God as a gift, continue to battle the agitation of soul that comes with life in a troubled world. In consequence of what Jesus has done to secure peace with God, his followers are liberated to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” to make their prayerful requests known to God. As they obey this directive, the Bible promises that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). The orientation is not to search for peace within; it is to experience inner peace by means of a dependent relationship with God.

Peace as a condition of nature freed from the curse. The peace on earth Jesus came to establish will ultimately encompass the physical universe. When Jesus calmed the storm that was riling the Sea of Galilee, he did not simply say “Stop.” He said, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). This miracle foreshadowed the day when the returning Christ will suspend the earth’s curse. The desert will blossom as a rose, the lion will lay down with the lamb, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, straight-line winds and volcanoes will all cease (Isa. 11:1-11). In that coming day, peace will reign on earth—just as the angel said it would.

May peace with God, and the peace of God, rest upon you.

May 17, 2013

Comfort From the Word

I tend to read the scriptures for instruction and teaching. I’m looking for passages that engage my intellect and illustrate the inter-connectedness and symmetry of scripture; not to mention scriptures I can share with personal contacts and blog readers.

I wrote about that in a blog post that has actually run twice here, sharing a popular verse of scripture, II Tim 3:16,  in three translations and then ending with my paraphrase:

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

But while this list includes four benefits of studying the word, it is not inclusive. The point is that whatever we think of when we think of the Bible, it is always so much more.

In Ps. 23:4 we read:

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

What is the ‘rod and staff’ spoken of here?  Most translations, including The Message preserve this imagery:

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.  (The Message)

Matthew Henry affirms that this imagery is pertinent to the phrase that precedes it; that the protection of the Lord described here is that needed in the face of death:

It is a comfort to the saints, when they come to die, that God takes cognizance of them (he knows those that are his), that he will rebuke the enemy, that he will guide them with his rod and sustain them with his staff. The gospel is called the rod of Christ’s strength (Ps. 110:2), and there is enough in that to comfort the saints when they come to die, and underneath them are the everlasting arms.

Ultimately, our comfort is God Himself. The Voice version, which tends to add things to the text, simplifies it in this verse:

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
near with Your protection and guidance,
I am comforted.  (The Voice)

This echoes Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (KJV)

a verse which in many ways parallels the first verse of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my Shepherd…

This itself echoes Psalm 121:2

My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.  (NIV)

This comfort should sustain us at all times; not just as we reach the end of life; though it is often at the end of life that people turn to God.

Now going back to where I started, many times in my day, both here and in my personal Bible study time, I find myself engaging scripture more as an intellectual pursuit than to seek comfort, solace and strength from its pages. My faith is way up in my head somewhere and isn’t penetrating my heart.

Or there is also the “This is really deep stuff; who can I share this with?” mentality that sees the truths about God more as a type of theological email forward to be sent on to ten people who must promise to send it ten others.  “This is so good, I must send it to Bob.”

The result of this is what I am experiencing as I write this: In times of anxiety, stress or fear, I sometimes feel I have woefully inadequate resources at my immediate internal disposal because I have not “banked” the truths of God’s comfort and life-giving strength. I find myself totally broken because I have studied God’s Word enough to know the comfort of God is there to be taken, but living in the middle of a disconnect, not being able to draw on it as I should.

I don’t need God’s rod or staff to drive away 3rd party oppressors as much as I need to be hit over the head with it as a reminder, “Hey…I am right here; I am the strength you need.”

Do some of you resonate with this? Is it possible you’re attracted here to the “201” nature of this page — perhaps even looking for Christianity 301 or Christianity 401 — but are missing the “Christianity pre-Kindergarten” principle that Jesus loves us?

Yes, we need to search the scriptures and study to know the core doctrines and history that we learn from its pages. But we also need to know how to find comfort from the Word; because in those times, all our Bible knowledge and ability to explain theology will not hold us up. We need to know the reality of  “still waters” spoken of elsewhere in the 23rd Psalm.  

I know I do.

December 13, 2012

The Yoke’s On You

Back in June we introduced the blog ministry of Scott Daniels at The Rest That Works. Today’s post appeared there a few weeks ago under the title, Yoking around with Jesus

 You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
~ Bob Dylan

   
       Not to say that we’re a bunch of cattle, but the yoke thing is growing on me (a typical Jesus paradox).

        I knew the yoke was often used in the Bible to talk about servitude and oppression, but before researching for the rest that works, I wasn’t very familiar with it as a positive image other than when Jesus used it in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me . . . Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Turns out, the image is common in rabbinic teaching, both from Jesus’ day and ever since. One popular teaching is: “Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of the Torah (The Judaic Law), they remove from him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns, and whoever breaks off the yoke of the Torah, they place on him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns” (Avot 3:5). According to this teaching, it’s one or the other—the ways of God or of the world, the yoke of fear or the yoke of Divine Love. As Bob Dylan says, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna serve somebody.

Jesus Teaching Yoke Is EasySo it’s very interesting that Jesus used the image to talk about rest — it’s such a contrast, even with much of Judaism. He was standing within Jewish tradition but saying that his work leads to relief from both the ways of the world and a burdensome experience of religious Law—and that’s exactly what I have experienced by aligning with him through the rest that works. Aligning with his “yoke” frees me to flow with Divine Love. It has the opposite effect of what one expects from the image (servitude and labor).

Jesus was saying many things in using the yoke image: First, he was saying, “Do what it takes to come into alignment with me and Divine Love. It will take some effort, but doing so will free you internally. You’ll learn to keep the conditional ways of the world where they belong—in the world. This will free you to work in a whole new way.” Second, he was saying that as we learn to settle into God’s love with him and work from there, we’ll finally experience a sense of relief inside that the ways of the world or dogmatic religion cannot give—peace that passes human understanding. There is a precious gift involved. There is a pearl of great price.

By definition, condition-based ways of doing things simply do not work to give what we really want—the inner peace and meaning found in being loved and loving unconditionally with God. When we align with and settle into unconditional love, we are freed to move freely and lightly in the world without being burdened inside with whether or not we “make the cut” or “are good enough.” We also become better able to free others from those conditions—- that’s love.

Almost everything in the world is conditional. That’s how things work in the world. It’s how society is organized. It’s how things are governed. Meet the conditions, and you’re in. Fail, and you’re out. Challenge them, and you’re threatened until you get back in line—back into the yoke of fear that governs most things in our world. It’s the cycle of how things work. We’re always moving in and out of the fears of that cycle, and until we come home to God’s unconditional love, those fears govern us inside. They govern our minds. They rule us. That’s just no fun. It’s a continual burden that wears our souls down.

It takes work to move into alignment with Divine Love, but it’s always worth it deep down inside. It feels so much better to feel an unconditionally loving spirit moving in us instead of fear, evaluations, accusations or threats. When those movements of spirit are dominant, we end up not liking or even respecting ourselves. We may be successful in the eyes of the world, but not our souls. We cannot be at peace inside when that is the case. We’re like the push-me-pull-you of Dr. Doolittle fame.

But there’s more at stake than just inner peace. We have so much more to offer others when we live in alignment with God’s love. The most loving thing we can do for others at any given time is to check our internal alignment and be moving with Divine Love. It’s for us, but not just for us. It’s for our world, starting with our families, friends, co-workers and neighbors—whoever we are with. For this is how the kingdom comes, heart to heart, one heart at a time.

Jesus’ invitation to enter the rest that works is a sweeping one. It’s a big deal. Coming into alignment with him and working with him in his “yoke” delivers us from fears and veiled threats, inside and out. But it does more than that. The discipline involved takes us beyond pie-in-the-sky hippie thinking. It’s not just about rest, but also what works. In this sense, it is hard work—checking our internal alignment as we go takes a lot of spiritual discipline. But the rewards of moving with Divine Love so exceed the rewards of any other way of living, there’s no question it’s worth it. Divine Love means so much to us that there’s no comparison with anything else. When we’re in the zone—feeling Divine, Creative Energy flowing in and out—we laugh at ourselves for ever valuing anything more.

Jesus’ way and truth really does set us free from the burdens that wear us down in the most spiritually serious ways. We need to work in the world, and want to, because there’s work well worth doing with our Creator who is creating out of Divine Love. We want to create good things, we want to keep our families safe, we want to do what’s right, but not because of threats, not because someone will get us if we don’t. We want to do what Love beckons us to do with God because it’s our innermost desire, for ourselves and for others. When we’re working in that zone, we know that we’re fulfilling out purpose on the planet. It feels right deep down inside, even if there is hard work involved. It’s work worth doing. In fact, it’s worth everything and our souls know it.

And that’s no yoke.

More power to you in escaping the yoke of fear and settling into the unforced rhythms of Divine Love with Jesus. He will work with you if you’ll let him. He’s saved me in ways I can’t even begin to explain—especially from myself. Just ask him for help and guidance and pay attention. Look to align with Divine Love and look for leads, inside and out. He’ll work with you from there.

June 11, 2010

Practicing God’s Presence

O.K.,  I’ll admit it.   I am the last person on earth to get around to reading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.   Actually, it’s only a few dozen pages, but I am slowly working my way through this classic.

It’s written in an older style of English for one thing.   Not exactly Shakespeare, but I have to read a single sentence several times in order to get what I think it means.

But mostly it’s a rich text. And no, I don’t mean “rich text” in the HTML sense.   I mean it’s deep. Simple, but very, very profound.

Much like Brother Lawrence himself.   This guy had no real claim to fame.   He would be voted “least like to have inspired a Christian book that has sold millions of copies.”

In the monastery where he served, he was the guy who worked in the kitchen.   That’s it.   Every once in awhile he got sent out on some purchasing mission which, to hear how it stressed him, you would think it was a trans-Atlantic crossing.

But he trusted God for everything.   In everything.   Through everything.

But it was never a big deal.   For him it was natural.

He could pray a formal prayer, but when it done, then he would simply go back into the normal, ongoing discourse he had going with God.   And the latter type of communication with God was for him, the better and more effective of the two.

He could so some act of service, but when it was done, he would go back to the mundane activity of his work, but do it as onto God.   And for him, the latter type of effort was, he felt, the higher of the two.

Kinda the opposite of how we normally see things.

I think the style of the book is actually its best asset.   You have to mine to get the nuggets of gold it contains.   And I’m only mere pages into it, just finishing the “Conversations” section.

If you’ve missed out, get a copy.    It’s certainly not an expensive book, but its worth on a “per-page” basis is way up there.

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