October 28, 2017 § Leave a comment
“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”?
- 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.“
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 Lord; I 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)
November 3, 2016 § 2 Comments
Many Chicago Cubs fans would say a curse was lifted late last night when their team won the World Series for the first time since 1908. The “Curse of the Billy Goat”(1) dates back to the 1945 World Series, when the Cubs were in game four leading the Detroit Tigers two games to one. William Sianis, owner of the local Billy Goat Tavern, tried to bring his pet goat to the game (he had two tickets). Wrigley Field told William his stinky goat was not welcome, and William pronounces the curse: “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more.” The Cubs went on to lose that game and the series, never to see another post-season victory. Until last night, at 11:47pm Iowa time, with game 7 against the Cleveland Indians going into extra innings, when a Cubs victory broke the curse(2).
This was a welcome ending to our November 2nd, 2016, a day that began with news of the ambush-style murder of two Des Moines-area police officers(3) shortly after 1:00am. We’ve been lamenting the news of cops getting killed all over the nation, and yesterday it hit home. It was a day of mourning, of bringing flowers and other notes of appreciation to local police stations, of hugs and tears at two flower-covered street corners, of blue stripes and lights appearing on cars and houses across the city, of churches(4) like ours canceling normal Wednesday services and opening their doors for a hurting community to come and pray.
Thankfully, the alleged shooter was caught and neighbors came together to support one another, but the evil behind the killing of Des Moines Police Sgt. Tony Beminio and Urbandale Officer Justin Martin is a reflection of another curse. Genesis 3 tells us about the curse over creation brought on by sin at the dawn of creation. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23)
I don’t want a comparison of the curse of sin to the “Curse of the Billy Goat” to make light of those fallen officers. A World Series win can’t bring them back. But maybe the Cubs’ day-ending and curse-ending victory could serve to remind us of the hope we have in Christ and God’s promises to us. Sin is the most serious business there is, and the evil and suffering brought by Adam’s sin in the beginning is part of a curse which will one day meet an end. The suffering of Christ for the sin that cursed creation will in the end heal it and renew it. “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” (Revelation 21:5).
The truth of God’s Word bookends history; the tragedy that began the day of mankind will be made right by day’s end. In the midst of a broken and groaning world, we are “more than victorious” (Romans 8:37) with our trust placed in Jesus Christ, the one who has already proclaimed victory over sin and death. That’s a promise worth celebrating now.