Peace We Don’t Get: Hope for Hump Day with a View to Sunday

This Sunday we will be looking at what is possibly one of the better known passages in the Bible on peace.

 

Philippians 4:4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

It seems to me that as Christians we have an odd relationship with peace.  We have turned a gift from God into a rule we are failing at.  “You don’t have peace? Oh, well, you’re supposed to have peace.  What are you worried about?  What are you anxious about?  Stop it.  Peace! Be still!”

I wonder if a lot of our lack of peace comes from our lack of peace.  Do you worry about how much you worry?  Does your anxiety make you anxious?  “Why am I so worried about this?  I’m really screwing this up.”

This passage mentions the peace of God (verse 6) and the God of peace (verse 9).  These are not the same thing.  They are related, but they are not the same.  You can have peace with God only because he is a God of peace.  God created you to be a recipient of his love and therefore to live at peace with him.

So what robs us of our peace?  We have believed some lie the world, our flesh, or the devil has sold us.

Maybe you have believed that joy comes from happiness.  That’s a lie. I know many apparently happy people who have no joy in their lives.  Likewise I’ve known many joyful people who have gone through very unhappy circumstances.

Maybe you have been directed by all the little white lies your own thoughts tells you instead of directing your thoughts.  Is it time to stop listening to yourself and start talking to yourself?

Maybe you have allowed the accuser more hearing than he deserves.  The number one robber of peace in our lives is shame.  Shame is always only a tool of the accuser.  God is not a God of shame but the God of peace.  Do you know the God of peace?  Does his peace with you surpass even your own comprehension?

Come this Sunday to Hope of Christ Church to meet this God of Peace for the first time or become reacquainted with him.  Learn how to deal with the shame that is falsely used against you.  Learn what it means to pursue joy over happiness.  Learn what it is to know and be known by the God of peace.

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Closet Space and Room in the Garage

The other day I was meeting with a fellow pastor and church planter.  At the end of our time together he asked me to pray for him – that he find time for quiet reflection and meditation; that he find time to be still before the Lord.

Sounds like a pretty reasonable request.  Sounds like something I might ask someone to pray for.  Sounds like something that will… never happen.

Finding time to sit still and do–let’s face it–nothing is impossible.  How would you go about finding this time?  Where would you look?  It’s harder than that even, because this ‘nothing’ is an intentional ‘nothing.’  Quietness before the Lord.  Stillness in the[did my email just chime.  I’ll just check that, it could be important. Oh, someone commented on my last FB post.  How many is that?  wow people really liked that post[[Oh someone posted an article.  I should read that.  It is from the Gospel Coalition, after all[[[did my phone vibrate? I should return that text.  It’s about tomorrow’s meeting[[[[That reminds me, I should call that other person too and make sure he’s doing okay.  He sounded discouraged yesterday[[[[[Isn’t my sermon on discouragement?  Where is that book I was looking for?]]]]] where was I?  Oh, the phone call.]]]] where was I?  Oh yeah, the text.  about the meeting.]]] now, where was I?  Oh right, the article from the Gospel Coalition.  How did NFL.com get pulled up?]] Now where was I?  Oh right, Facebook.  Gosh my cleverness amazes even me sometimes] midst of a very distracting culture.  

Imagine coming home one day and you walk past a door you’ve never noticed before right next to the kitchen.  You open it and there before you is an empty closet.  “Honey, what’s this?”  “Looks like a closet dear.” “Yes, I realize it’s a closet.  Has it always been here?” “Um.” “I think just found another closet!”

There are exactly three times you find empty closets in your house.  The day you move in, the day you move out, and the day you clean out your stupid closet and MAKE some room in it.

You will NEVER find time to sit quietly, waiting on God, meditating on His kindnesses, praying, reading, listening.  You must MAKE the time.

This sounds like work.  Yes.  It sounds like you are saying the Christian life takes effort.  Yes.  The Christian Life takes effort.  If someone told you it doesn’t, demand your money back.

The irony in this case is how much effort it takes to take a moment and stop putting in the effort.

But it’s easier to say I want to find the time.  When I say I want to find the time, I can now sit back and wait for God to make some quiet time available.  If He wants me to spend time in quiet meditation, He will have to do something about my days and schedule.  Nothing has changed.  Obviously it’s just not as important to God as it is to me.

When I moved my family to Northern VA it was the first home we owned with a garage and a basement.  We were very excited.  The first morning we woke up, my wife asked me what my plans were.  “I’m going to get both cars into the garage by the end of the day” (my wife and I grew up in Cleveland where, if you had a garage, you used your garage for–this sounds crazy– your cars).  So I spent the entire day rearranging my garage – moving things out that didn’t need to be there, rearranging other things that needed to be in the garage but didn’t need to take up as much space as they were.

You have 168 hours this week.  God gave them to you.  It’s the same number of hours you had last week.  It’s the same number of hours you had the week before.  It’s the same number of hours you will have next week and the week after.  Maybe there are some things in your week that could be rearranged or removed entirely.  Maybe it’s time to throw out some of that moth-eaten stuff and MAKE room in your closet for the stuff of eternal quality.

“Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 46:10

To find time, you need to begin to make time.  And this like all worthy endeavors will take effort and sacrifice and change and you will do great sometimes and you fail sometimes and you will love it and be amazed by the time with God sometimes and you will hate it and feel like a hypocrite, and a lazy one at that, sometimes.

I suggest starting with a pretty specifically small time limit.  start with ten minutes.  Ten small minutes when you close your computer and turn off your phone or put it in another room and you close the door and you open your Bible.  It might help you to take out a piece of paper and write on it.  It might also help you to throw the paper away when you are done so that you aren’t writing your next blog or sermon or… oh, maybe I’m the only one that does that.  Anyway, you get the picture.  Start at ten minutes.  Meditate on God’s goodness.  Write down five people in your life you are thankful for and pray for them.  Read a portion of Scripture that has nothing to do with a lesson or sermon or book you are preparing.  Ask the Lord to create in you a clean heart and to renew His steadfast Spirit in you.  Ask Him to restore to your heart the joy of His salvation. (Psalm 51.10,12)

In a week make it fifteen minutes.  A week after that make it twenty.  By the time January rolls around you’ll be up to thirty and by the end of January over forty-five minutes of quietness before the Lord.

I do not claim this is going to be easy.  It will require sacrifices.  It will require rearranging some things and getting rid of some things.  Easy is leaving the cars outside and having a ginormous, there’s-no-where-else-to-put-it-let’s-throw-it-out-there space.

It won’t be easy.  It will be worth it.  Stop looking for the time as if it’s a misplaced set of car keys.  Start making the time.

Enjoy the journey.

Hope for Hump Day, October 30

Never Use ‘Always’ – Always Avoid ‘Never’ – Unless…

It happened again. Your spouse, your teenager, your brother or sister, your friend has let you down. An argument, a disagreement, a misunderstanding, a missed opportunity. And now the words begin to flow – maybe to the offending party, maybe to someone else about the offending party. Soon the words are not merely flowing, they are flying with the speed and accuracy – and deadliness – of an arrow off a crossbow. And then it comes:

“You always…”

“She never…”

“You never…”

“He always…”

They are such easy words to say. And they certainly communicate well your frustration and hurt. But do they over-communicate? Do they say more than you intended to say? And is it true?

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4.29-32).

Hello, My Name Is…

When you use words like, “You always,” or “You never,” what you are saying is, “This trait, this offense is your identity. This defines you.” In other words, nothing else in the person’s past has any capital or impact on who this person is at his or her core. This, and this only, is their identifier. It becomes the monochromatic lens through which you view the person. Everything they do is colored by this one fault or flaw or sin.

But if you can take a moment to be honest you have to admit, that is simply not true. Hyperbolic language is always over-the-top and never accurate (see what I did there?). This sin is NOT the defining character trait of your husband or wife, your teenager or sibling or friend. Our sin is not our identifier. It is certainly true that our sin used to be our identity, but no longer. Christ has delivered us.

“You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6.11

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Romans 8.14-17

If God himself does not identify us by our sins, we ought not use each other’s faults as identifiers either.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

When we use the language of “you always” and “you never” and other phrases like them, what we are saying is that there is no hope for change. “This is so much your definer that the Holy Spirit is not going to change you.” “I have no hope for anything ever changing in you.”

Is that what we are seeking to communicate with one another? Is that an accurate assessment of the ongoing struggle with the power of sin?

“He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1.6

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4.8,9

If God’s view of us is that we are washed, justified and sanctified shouldn’t that be our view of each other?

Our words have meaning and power, power to heal and help or power to tear down and destroy.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18.21

Where ‘always’ will always work and ‘never’ will never be out of place

So, how does God use always and never when he describes our relationships on earth? Won’t we always be dealing with each other’s sin? Won’t we never be perfected before the Lord returns? Yes, and so we need love… always.

1 Corinthians 13 is that well-known passage that is read at so many weddings. It’s the “love” chapter. Have you ever noticed that most of the descriptors of love are in response to a negative situation? “Love is patient.” When is it that you need patience? “Love does not insist on its own way; it is not resentful or irritable.” When is it we are most insistent that others follow our way? When are you tempted to be irritable or resentful?

The passage ends with four “always” and one “never.”

“love bears all things (always bears), believes all things (always believes), hopes all things (always has hope), endures all things (always endures). Love never ends.

Love never gives up. This is the love God has for you. This is the love God grants to you for each other. The next time you are tempted to throw the “always” and “nevers” into an argument. Remember the always and nevers of the Gospel, of Christ’s love for you, of the Spirit’s presence both in you and in the other person. And never give up.

Enjoy the journey.

Hope for Hump Day

Just a little note to offer you some encouragement on this dreary Wednesday morning.

Transmission Problems

Last month I was perusing Facebook and came across this status from my mother-in-law.

“Transmission problems…car will not reverse but hey, who wants to go backwards anyhow!”

Isn’t that the truth? Who wants to go backwards? To go backwards is to correct a course. To admit a wrong direction. To give ground in a stand-off. To go backwards requires more effort. I need mirrors and flexibility as I twist around to see where I came from. I need to move slower so that I don’t drive off into a ditch because, let’s face it, I’m not used to going backwards. To go backwards requires patience with myself, because if I have been driving full-throttle down the wrong road it may take a while to back up to the correct path again.

The Christian journey is often described as “two steps forward and one step back.” I suppose the idea is to offer hope to those struggling with the walk that, although the going seems slow, there is progress. But I wonder if from another angle the walk looks more like “one step forward three steps back.”

C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity pointed out:

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

You’re Going the Wrong Way!

I love the scene in the 1987 movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, in which Del (John Candy) and Neal (Steve Martin) are driving down the highway in the middle of the night—on the wrong side of the highway. Another driver comes up along side of them (on the other side of the median) and frantically tries to convince them, “You’re going the wrong way!”

Did you start the morning with yet another belittling outburst against your children? Are you stuck on a one-lane, one-way alley of irritation with and disappointment in your spouse? Have you damaged a friendship through neglect? Maybe you feel like you’ve been on this path for far too long. Maybe you can’t even see the fork behind you where you got off course. Maybe you feel like it’s hopeless since you will only get off track again at the next intersection. As a good friend reminded me recently, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” Hit the brakes. Grind the gears. Throw it into reverse. There are no cut-overs. There is no amount of religious winding that will maneuver you back to the right path.

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5.23-24

No amount of religious activity can make the paths we’ve taken away from one another holy and good paths. No worship, no offerings, no service replaces the simple yet hard work of repentance. Going backwards. Turning around The way forward is back. And is only possible because of the One who backed up first for us.

Reversal of Fortune

At the cross God turns around from the wrath intended for us, turns that wrath from us to his beloved Son who willingly took the punishment our paths held for us. In the greatest back up in History God reversed the effects of sin, raising His Son from the dead, so that we could have life in His Name. The great hope we have that we can back up quickly or even back up after a long wandering is that God opened the path back to himself through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And if we can back up from the path leading away from our heavenly Father, then we can back up from the paths we have taken from each other. Turn around. Christ has replaced your transmission so you can back up regularly, daily, early or late. What a picture of glory, each of us-arm on the backrest, head twisted around, front of the car fishtailing in the back as we fly down the road toward one another, glad for the capital ‘R’ Jesus has put in our gear box.

Enjoy the Journey!