Why Peace Doesn’t Come

The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in Thee.  Isaiah 26:3

In the past, when my mind was unsettled, I prayed for peace.  When I was plagued with distrust, I prayed for peace.  When I felt God was unfair, I prayed for peace.  I didn’t get the results I expected and finally learned that I had things backwards.  What do you do when you need peace?  Do you pray the similar prayers that I prayed – as if it were all up to God?

Jesus is my peace.  Peace lay in a manger.  So, in light of Christmas coming, I’m exploring the subject of peace again and under what conditions God promises it.  This verse from Isaiah gives solid direction.  Those who are steadfast in their mind, who choose to trust, will be kept in perfect peace.  If I do not have peace, it is because my mind has taken a detour to a place of dis-trust.  I have allowed my interpretation of my circumstances to rule me, and subsequently, it has taken my emotions captive.  My beliefs are the problem, not God’s inability to bring peace.

Jesus was the WORD and He grew to say many things.  My choice to dis-believe Him is what erodes a deep, inner calm.  I must be intentionally steadfast and resolved to trust Him implicitly despite the mounting evidence against His faithfulness.  He is God and He is always faithful, always loving, always true to His promises.  Upon these truths my life rests.  Period.  My theology can not be defined by circumstances.

To provide an illustration for how peace is found, here’s a personal example.

I once prayed over the course of a decade for God’s intervention in a certain area of my life.  During that time, I saw no evidence of His future provision.  I lived despairing, but eventually, I believe the Spirit of God moved through me to confess this out loud:  “You are a faithful God who hears the prayers of Your child.  You answer every prayer with perfect love.  You hold Yourself responsible to meet my needs. I trust You and wait on You with full confidence that You will come and You will save.”  I confessed this often, many times a day.  Soon after, peace followed.  And soon after, so also did God’s deliverance.

I used to pray for peace as though it were all up to God.  I took no personal responsibility for laying the foundation of faith.  I let my mind wander where it wanted and my thoughts were often a cesspool of doubts and confusion.  I’m learning that peace of mind is always a two way street.  If I do my part, God’s promise of peace will descend upon my ragged spirit.

Oh Prince of Peace, I honor Your promises in every area of my life that still waits for Your deliverance.  Amen 

Little Lamb of God

“Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” In response, Abraham prophesied, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together”. Genesis 22:7-8 

Let’s go back 2,000 years.  Together, we are standing in front of an opening to a stable.  We look inside and see a young man and woman holding a newly born infant in their arms.  Their mood is hushed.  The moment is holy – though nearly everyone in Bethlehem fails to notice.  We enter, are warmly welcomed, and ask what is so common when visiting friends who have had a new baby.  “May I hold him?”

I have held many newborns, but the experience didn’t hold a candle to the sacredness of holding my own two children in my arms.  When it’s your baby, how different it is.

If you and I pause to enter the Christmas story, we’re invited to internalize that He’s not just Joseph and Mary’s baby.  He’s our baby.  “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”  Holding him is very personal for us. We know the rest of the story and understand that Jesus was the little lamb of God.  He’s been prophesied throughout the Old Testament all the way back to the book of Genesis.  Mankind, ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, has desperately sought a way to get rid of our guilt.  Our fallen nature eats away at our psyche until we feel like a shell of a person.  We are agitated and tormented until our sin can be forgiven by God’s Lamb.

The hardest things in life are often bittersweet.  The pain is there but so is the presence of Jesus.  Against the backdrop of tragedy, beauty arises out of the ashes.  This was true even in the stable.  The manger and the cross were in each other’s shadow and Mary pondered the enormity of the implications.

Baby Jesus.  My little Lamb of God.  Your little Lamb of God.  As we caress Him and sing Him lullabies, we’re rocking Holiness.  We become aware of the privilege of being loved so much by God that He sent this vulnerable baby to an unwelcome planet.  We also become aware of our sinfulness and of the reasons He came ~

To take care of our personal sin problem.

To lift the curse.

To restore paradise.

To reconcile us again to intimate fellowship with His Father.

To declare us once and for all forgiven.

To declare that we are at peace with God through His coming death.

How many will see a nativity scene and worship God for each of these things?  Not many. The road is narrow.  But if you are on it, I can already hear you singing!

My Lamb.  You are no longer vulnerable but sitting on a throne.  Hallelujah. 

Dazed By God’s Glory

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.  Luke 2:9

Oh, to be chosen to witness the glory of God being made manifest all around me.  The shepherds didn’t ask to see it, didn’t try to earn it, and surely didn’t expect it.  The unmerited favor of God intersected their personal history and brought an experience the likes of which they would never forget.  Nothing in the future would eclipse the memory of that night when the heavens opened up.  The veil that limited their spiritual eyesight was temporarily lifted.

Are such defining moments possible today for the one who loves God?  Yes. There are moments that become mountaintops; encounters that become a Bethel.  Don’t settle for monotony.  Don’t live on yesterday’s manna.  Seek, listen, pursue God relentlessly and the glory of the Lord will be near to you at an unsuspecting time. An ordinary day will be turned upside down as the eternal penetrates the temporal.  God’s glory will so fill your field of vision that earth’s trinkets will no longer dazzle the eyes.

Those around you may not see the holy moments but you will.  You’ll take your shoes off even as you remember it.  In the afterglow, you will live dazed.  You will tremble in the distraction of such a memory.  Such is the condition of one who has seen God pass by.

I want to commune with you in a place that doesn’t need words.  Amen

 

When I’m Suffering, Am I Really Favored?

And he came to Mary and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.  Luke 1:28

Mary was favored by God, promised His presence, but then, her life was characterized by suffering.  She left her home eight months pregnant.  She gave birth in a dirty barn.  She fled for Egypt with a husband and a toddler.  She saw her son taunted, beaten, and crucified.  How was she comforted?  There was only one way ~ through sound theology and the presence of God.

As she reviewed the stories of her ancestors, she remembered others who were favored by God, promised His presence for their journey, but then suffered greatly as they walked out their calling.  ‘A life of ease’ never characterizes the journey of a disciple.

  • Joseph, shown early through dreams that he was favored by God, was then betrayed and led into slavery and imprisonment.  Many years later, he would see redemption.
  • David, shown early at twelve years of age that he was favored by God, was anointed king.  But over the next decade or two, he hid in caves and ran for his life from a demented king.
  • Jesus, obviously favored by His Father (a voice from heaven declared it so), was immediately led into the desert for testing.  His life ultimately ended up on a cross, by God’s design.

There are more examples than this, too.  So why have I forgotten the Bible stories I learned as a kid?  Why, when I’m suffering, do I wonder if I have found dis-favor with God?  Why do I hide my pain from other believers?  Why do I fear God has withdrawn from me rather than tucked Himself in closely?  The answer is bad theology and the shame other believers inflict because of their bad theology!

Perhaps you are in the wilderness of testing.  You may be ill and the losses that accompany deteriorating health have been staggering.  You may have been betrayed, wondered why God didn’t prevent it and instead of feeling comforted, you feel punished, deserted, and aching.  You feel you set out on a path God carved out for you ~ only to experience one set of crushing circumstances after another.  Most likely, you’ve second guessed yourself so badly that you’ve lost your footing, or you’ve second guessed God’s love and lost all confidence in His promises.  If either is true, shame and guilt are your constant companions.

Suffering does not prove dis-favor and disobedience.  In the life of an obedient believer, it proves God’s favor.  I am not advocating that we wear our pain as a badge.  I am, however, promoting rest in God’s purposes!

The One who favors us is the One who calls us to share in His suffering.  God’s glory, the point of it all, is most clearly seen when His favored ones trust Him through their tears.  Let’s renounce the lies of our accuser and run with confidence toward the heart of the Father who sustained Mary through the tumultuous events surrounding the birth of His Son, Jesus.

I want to be a spiritual giant but I forget their paths of suffering.  Shelter me in your arms of grace.  I declare that I am loved today, not despised.  In Jesus’ name, Amen

Where Is The Peace On Earth?

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Luke 2:14

       Songs have been written about peace at Christmastime and greeting card companies have used the quote to promote wishes for peace to all who receive their card.  It’s nice to wish someone we care about a peaceful life but is this what the angels meant when they made this announcement?

         If they had just declared ‘peace on earth’, it might have been easier to misconstrue.  But the phrase ‘peace among men with whom He is pleased’ changes everything.

         This phrase is connected to an event in Jesus’ life when God the Father made a pronouncement of His own.  When Jesus was being baptized, His Father’s voice was heard, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  So to whom will peace come?  To those with whom the Father is pleased.  The conditions for pleasing the Father are to love His Son, to embrace Him as Savior, and to live a life of obedience, just as Jesus did.

         For every person who does this, there is peace with God.  The birth of Jesus and the mission He came to fulfill made this peace possible because sin was dealt with on Calvary.  This sentiment from the angels can not be misconstrued to mean that, in 2016, the world will be a more peaceful place.  It won’t.  Times here will only prove more perilous until Jesus comes back and the prophecies from scripture continue to play out.  While that may sound grim, God’s plan moves along according to God’s timetable, leading us to the day when Jesus will reign on earth and we will enjoy peace – internally and externally – for the first time.

         For every one of us who are citizens of heaven today, who have made peace with God through Christ, peace starts now.  It reigns in the heart of all those who have asked Jesus to bear the Father’s wrath in our place.  That’s what He came to do.  A birth in a crude stable setting was to usher in a peace-making mission.  So to all of you who are in Christ today, I send a heartfelt greeting.  “Rest in the peace of forgiven sins.  Rest in the peace that exists between you and the Father.  Jesus came to win it for us – and hand it to us on the other side of the cross.”

If you are well pleased with me, it is only because my righteousness was a gift from You, Jesus.  Thank you for peace the world does not understand.  Amen

An Unpredictable Lineage

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh [Messiah] comes. Genesis 49:10

If I look for a human being to emulate, Joseph is always a good choice. His fidelity to God amidst great suffering has inspired us down through the ages. Of all of Jacob’s sons, Joseph gets the most attention. Yet, it is not from the line of Joseph that Jesus was born. The extremely flawed sons of Jacob didn’t mess things up so badly that God disqualified them from the promise.  God’s covenant prevailed over sin.

What was the purpose of Joseph’s life? To save Judah and His descendants. If Joseph had not assumed a place of power in Egypt, he could not have brought his father and brothers to a place of abundance. Jacob and all of his descendants would have perished in the great famine. It’s hard for us to grasp that Joseph was really used by God to save a brother who had sold him into slavery. It seems twisted to our sense of justice.

God is wild and wonderful. He is also unpredictable. He exalts the likes of Judah. He blesses adulterers like King David. He forgives betrayers like Peter. He saves persecutors and murderers like Paul. Judah, at the end of his life, offered to give his own for the life of another brother. His father, Jacob, lived long enough to see Judah choose righteousness. The common thread in all of these stories was a heart of repentance. God’s forgiveness was, and is, so radical that an entire past is put under His atoning blood.

No family is perfect.  In the past few days, I’ve heard from more than a few who say that they have not seen their grandchildren in years. They grieve over that and feel embarrassed in public when others ask if they have children and grandchildren. Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ relevant to them? Is it relevant to us in the very places we long to see the righteousness of God revealed in the lives of our family members? Oh yes.

This Christmas, as we hear the Christmas story and are tempted to zone out at the reading of the lineage of Jesus, let’s wake up and sit on the edge of our seat. When Judah’s name is mentioned, we can rejoice that God works in family messes. No one is out of His reach. We should never stop praying for forthcoming repentance. God is good for every promise He has made.

For every family ‘Joseph’, there are tears of joy. For every family ‘Judah’, there are tears of faith. You are God over every family drama that is brought to your feet in prayer. Amen

Save

Possessed

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9

God speaks and planets appear out of nowhere. God pushes galaxies around with the tip of His finger. He breathes over a dead Earth and everything brown turns to lush green. Such unfathomable power, isn’t it? Can this deity be born inside a virgin and emerge as not only the image of God, but God Himself? Jesus said ‘yes’ and this is what got Him crucified. He claimed to be God. Either He was telling the truth and is worthy of my worship or He’s a liar and should have died the death that He got. For much of the world to believe that He’s just a good teacher without choosing sides is a cop out.  Christians are losing their lives because we proclaim that there is only one way to God and it is through Jesus.  We are labeled narrow and exclusive.  But every religion of the world is exclusive by the mere fact that they espouse beliefs within the confines of their label.

The expanse of God can live in a person. Only one person ~ and it was Jesus. God, in Christ, restrained His power with wisdom but when it was unleashed, the dead were raised, storms ceased, and the blind were made to see.

Can I even dare to believe that I have not only been made in God’s image, I am a container for the Spirit of God to live in. All that power, wisdom, peace, holiness….lives in my spirit. Can others see evidence of that? Is His glory visible? Am I bold enough, when prompted, to speak words of healing and truth and trust the power of God to work through me? Perhaps I am shy of it because I have forgotten that I can be possessed by a Spirit. Just as the demoniac was possessed by Satan, I am meant to be overtaken and ruled by the Spirit of God. When that happens, it will be quite evident that I am not my own.  I’m under the influence.  My works of faith will be both glorious and highly controversial.

Help me fully understand what Your incarnation means for me. It’s so loaded with implications and I know I haven’t begun to grasp it. Amen