Peace in the Midst

October 28, 2017 § Leave a comment

pizza-with-slice-taken-out-middle

“Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened.” (Acts 9:31a)

Can you imagine that? What was that like? As an elder in a church, it’s hard for me to picture “a time of peace” in ours. There are definitely times where the problems in our church don’t seem too overwhelming, though it seems there is always some form of unrest happening.

But I became an elder during a particularly hard time for our church. I compared church leadership to a Jim Gaffigan comedy sketch I’d heard where he imagines what it must be like as President of the United States to be woken up early every single morning by an aide patting his shoulder and whispering, “Sir… Problems…”

The above passage in Acts follows a time of turmoil for Saul, and likely the church at large, as this newly converted Pharisee began stirring up trouble in Damascus and Jerusalem. Saul “preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus” and “debated with the Hellenistic Jews” who then tried to kill him, so the believers he was with had to relocate him (v.s 27-30).

So maybe the “peace” the church enjoyed here was a reprieve from persecution, or maybe it was peace in the midst of persecution.

Most of the New Testament Pastoral Epistles were written to a particular church addressing a particular problem like heresy or divisions, so I don’t think the church ever enjoyed a lot of peace in the problem-free sense. In at least one of those epistles, we find an important reminder of the availability of peace not just before or after, but in the middle of trials.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9)

Paul tells the church in Philippi about God’s peace that “transcends all understanding” that “will guard your hearts and your minds” from whatever threatens the joy we should have in Christ. How do we possess this sense of peace and “rejoice in the Lord always”?

  1. Know that “the Lord is near” (vs. 5). God’s presence kept Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego safe in King Nucchadnezzar’s fiery furnace (Daniel 3:25), and He will do the same for you. Jesus promised His disciples in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
  2. Pray (vs. 6). As an alternative to anxiety, ask God for help, remembering that worry does no good (Matt. 6:27). Also pray for others and thank God for what he’s already done in your life.
  3. Occupy your mind with “whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable… excellent… praiseworthy” (vs. 8). A heavenward focus on the good things of God is a mind and heart guarded from anxiety.
  4. Put into practice what you’ve learned (vs. 9). Hear, but also do (James 1:22). Evil never brings peace to the one doing it. Matthew Henry comments, “All our privileges and salvation arise in the free mercy of God; yet the enjoyment of them depends on our sincere and holy conduct.” We find peace in doing what God wants us to do.

Clearly, the peace God has for us to claim and find our faith strengthened through is not found in the spaces between life’s turmoil. Maybe God’s peace “transcends all understanding” because we tend to understand peace to be the absence of trials rather than the presence of God and God-given opportunities to grow in our trials.

Peace!

Remember Joy

December 12, 2016 § 2 Comments

Two Thousand Sixteen has been a rough year, personally. It began with a corporate acquisition that left me with more work and less pay. My mid-year introduction to the elder board at church coincided (coincidentally, I hope) with a slew of new problems. I spent the last half of my summer seeking treatment for sinus trouble. Parenting took a frustrating turn as our son’s behavior in school did too. The November election seemed to please very few human beings. Now as the year closes—in fact in the last week—I see a coworker’s 36 year old husband entering hospice, attended the funeral of a neighbor, and had a friend I’ve been mentoring just watch his apartment and all his possessions burn to the ground. Life sucks like that sometimes.


The word JOY is propped up and lit up in our front yard during this time of year because joy is one of those words people associate with Christmas time. This is also when people reflect on the past year, try to see the positives and resolve to make the next one better, but often fixate on the year’s struggles. Is there room for joy here?

There is. And for Christians, we should have a monopoly on joy. Why? Because we have a sorrow-proof hope, a hope that goes even beyond the silver linings others look for in this life.

For the friend who lost his home, he can say that at least he has his health. For the one who’s lost his health too, at least he can say he and his loved ones are alive. For the sick who have lost loved ones, at least they can be consoled because their loved ones are no longer suffering. Sooner or later though, we run out of silver linings, either because life gets really bad or our own pain keeps us from seeing them anymore. But beyond the silver lining, there is gold.

Christians should have a monopoly on joy because of what Christmas celebrates: The coming of a quite literal bundle of Joy, Jesus our Lord and Savior, bringing joy to the world. From man’s first sin, God has been working to redeem us from sin and the misery it brings. Absolutely everything in this life, even death, will be made right. If that’s true, hope in Jesus Christ gives us absolutely everything. Eighty or ninety or a hundred years of misery on earth is nothing compared to a moment in heaven in God’s presence. If this is our focus, joy will follow. Shouldn’t it? Christians are defined by our identity in Christ, not our circumstances, and eternal joy is our destiny. That should change things for us. While it’s appropriate to mourn, our inner joy shouldn’t stay inner. It’s part of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22).

Jesus said: If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.  These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:10-11) I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Paul said: “Rejoice always… (1 Thess. 5:16) In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. (2 Cor. 7:4) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)

James said: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3)

Even Habakkuk, having hope in the promised Messiah yet to come, said: Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

More than a feeling (cue Boston guitar into), joy comes from knowledge of the truth of who we are in Christ, unworthy recipients of the grace of God in eternal salvation. A lack of joy means we either don’t have this, or have forgotten this, and either way we are in trouble. If our faith is not in Jesus, it’s in things that can’t save us from eternal misery—things like positive thinking, optimism, or whatever drug we use to feel better or make things go our way. Are you a Christian who just isn’t feeling it? If our faith IS in Jesus, then the joy that resides in us is merely forgotten—and who knows what other truth we’ve forgotten as well. Remind yourself and each other of the hope you have, and be the bearer of joy that others would do anything for.

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'” (Luke‬ ‭2:10-11‬)

Putting Anxiety in its Place

May 16, 2014 § 2 Comments

As my own anxieties are uncovered lately, I’ve been trying to uncover what really makes me worry, aside from the circumstances of life that at times can seem very heavy. What exactly puts me in a position where I feel I must worry about them? This thinking has resulted in the discovery that, for me, my thinking informs and dictates my emotional response to life’s trials.

Chewed Pencil with path

There’s a lot to be said about the important roles of both your head and your heart and the connection between the two. But what has really helped me is the understanding that what I feel ultimately comes from what I think, so what I think about a situation critically determines whether I will worry about it or not.

Living as a Christian, I have a responsibility to think differently about anxiety than the world does. The world shares certain Biblical principals about anxiety, such as the wisdom of Jesus in Matthew 6:25/Luke 12:25, asking, “who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” In a practical sense, worrying never helps anything, and most people can get their minds around this.

But what the world does not readily consider is the role of God Himself plays in our anxiety. We have promises in Scripture that speak directly to our worries: The Psalmist wrote “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you…” (Psalm 55:22), and Peter later taught believers to Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Considering that God wants us to trust Him with our anxieties, I have to humbly consider that my anxious self is not giving Him my trust. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel His presence at times. And if I don’t “feel” God, I need to examine how I “think” about Him. He hasn’t gone away and I know this. If I get my thinking right, I can let what I know about God’s control over this world direct how I feel about my control over the world. If we know God is there and cares about us, that should steer our emotions. If our mind is preoccupied with God and less on our own problems, our attention will be on God and how He promises to deal with our problems.

That’s what we can know about God, but what can we know about our anxieties?  “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus promises we will have trouble in this world, but thank God, they are isolated and temporary. We only deal with them “in this world,” a natural world reeling from the corruptive effects of Adam’s sin, effects that are both physical and mental. There will be no trouble in the next world for those who claim Christ as Lord, so take heart. God is bigger than whatever you are facing. Our anxieties will not win; they lie in defeat at the foot of the cross. “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (See the rest of 2 Corinthians 4).

Garden_called_Gethsemane_Wallpaper_gs7a2We don’t ignore our problems, but can look at them through God’s eternal lens. This doesn’t mean we completely detach our emotions from responding to the present reality of trouble. God doesn’t even appear to do that. The man Jesus knew anxiety, revealed in His appeal to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His crucifixion: “’Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:42-44)

Sweat blood lately? The stress Jesus felt was real, but even more real was the knowledge that His Father’s will in saving us from all that is wrong in the world must be done. His anguish and death would, after all, make life and peace available to us all.

Everyone’s anxieties are different, and getting to the right understanding of our worries in light of God’s sovereignty won’t look the same for everyone. For many, medication and counseling are necessary steps. The destination, ultimately, is our right thinking about God and His control, which determines whether anxiety will control us. The culture we live in often confuses thinking with feeling, but we need to be clear about the distinction, and that what we know ultimately guides how we feel. And know the truth: Whatever our circumstances, God knows, God cares, and God rules. That should help us put our burdens in their rightful place, on His shoulders—not ours.

(Related post: Whoa, Feelings! Are We Losing Our Minds Over Emotion?)

 

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