Jesus + Us = Peace


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. (Philippians 4:6-7)

God gives us a wonderful promise in this passage: we do not need to be anxious about anything, we simply bring our cares and concerns to God and He will guard our hearts and minds with His peace.

There are two key prepositions in this passage which help us to understand how this is so. The first is “with thanksgiving.” How does one bring a serious care or concern to God with thanksgiving? Some of the things that we are anxious about are very serious.

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Photo by Aubin A Sadiki on Unsplash

It’s faith that helps us pray with desperation and still be thankful. As overwhelming as the challenge we face is, God is greater. He holds the whole world and all time—past, present and future—in His hands. Not only is He powerful, He is also loving. We know that God is loving because God the Son came into this world and became human to suffer all the everyday challenges of human life. We have a God who knows what it is like to grieve over the loss of a loved one, to celebrate in joy with friends, to be hungry, lonely, happy and sad. But God’s love goes further than this. For Jesus willingly went to the cross to suffer and die to open the door to eternal life for us.

We always were going to live forever. But now, because Jesus has saved us, our eternal life will be spent with God. It begins now as the Holy Spirit turns our hearts and minds toward Jesus and we trust in Him to save us. It continues after death when we go to reside with Jesus in that home He has built for us to rest and wait. And life with God reaches its fulfillment in the new heaven and earth when evil is banished, death is destroyed and all things, including us, are made new again.

We can be thankful when we pray because God has already given those things to us. The troubles we experience in this world are only temporary. They are like kindergarten conundrums which prepare us for the fullness of life to come.

The second key phrase is “in Christ Jesus.” The peace that comes from knowing that we have a God who loves us, is with us and is actively at working drawing us closer and closer to the salvation He is unfolding for us and for the world. That peace guards us in Christ Jesus. The peace comes to us because of Jesus and it keeps us connected to Jesus as we rest in Him and He lives His life through us.

It is in Jesus that we have peace, joy and life, and the best place to be is in Him.

Dear Jesus, I am often anxious and worried about many things. Help me to come to You with thanksgiving for Your love. Help me to give You my cares and concerns and receive the peace that You give. Amen.

 

The Source of All Love


So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 MSG)

What does it take for love to flourish? It takes love. But where does love come from? To be more specific, where is the initial source of love that starts the whole process of love flowing from one person to another? That initial source can only be God.

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Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

But does God really love? This is the defining question of humanity’s quest for meaning, purpose and understanding in this world. How does one answer such a question? What evidence does one allow and what criteria are used for measuring that evidence?

Natural knowledge tells us that something amazing must have happened to generate all the wondrous complexity and beauty that we see in nature around us. And human beings tend to root their reason for being in the stories or theories that they believe explain how all we see came to be. But when the revealed knowledge of the Bible is disallowed as evidence, humans invariably end up in one of two camps. Either they worship an indifferent god who demands to be pleased, or they believe that mechanistic, material forces are the foundation of all existence and action, and that makes love impossible.

As followers of Jesus, we are a strange people, for we accept as valid evidence an ancient book written by various authors over a span of 1500 years. The Bible is unique when compared to all other ancient manuscripts for it stands up, in an exemplary manner, to the scientific scrutiny of textual criticism.  But the greatest feature of the Bible is the story it contains of a God who stands apart from all other gods, for this God is love. The God of the Bible is a three-in-one God in whom perfect, self-giving, sacrificial love has always existed and will always exist. God created the world, but not so more beings could love Him, for He has no need for our love. God created the world so that there could be more love.

One often overlooked characteristic of love is that you make yourself vulnerable to having your heart broken when you love. Loving someone else includes the possibility that they could reject you and there would be nothing that you could do about it. It’s the price one pays to love.

To make it possible for love to abound, God set things up in such a way that we could reject Him, and all of us have done that in one way or another. Speaking figuratively, we could say that all of us have broken God’s heart. But God’s love is not dependent on us accepting Him. Because He loves us, God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to save us from our hardheartedness, turn us around and bring us back to the source of all love: God.

As we rest in God’s love, He works in us to help us live a lover’s life… and love will flourish.

Dear Jesus, shine the light of your love on the hard, wayward parts of my heart. Fill me with your love so that I may better love You and others. Amen.

Living in Grace


For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

This is easily one of my most favourite passages of Scripture. It is my creed, my life motto, my defining theme. I’m saved by grace through faith in Jesus. Full stop. That’s who I am. I need no one or no thing else. Jesus is my all in all.

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Photo by Sabine van Straaten on Unsplash

I say that this morning, but before mid-day arrives, I will be living as if I am saved by works, diligently scurrying hither and yon, like a disorientated mouse, seeking to gather up seeds of accomplishment for myself to affirm my identity and feed my sense of self-worth. What a waste of life and energy! Worse yet, that life and energy is spent on feeding a false hope. We can never be saved by our works. Our works can never be good enough to overcome the damage caused by sin.

That would require a perfect sacrifice and that price has already been paid in full. The first phrase of this passage is in the past perfect tense. I have already been saved by grace through faith. Therefore, my works are not a contribution in any way to my salvation. My works flow out of my salvation and they are for my neighbours. I don’t need my good works. Jesus has done it all already. God doesn’t need my good works. He owns everything already. But my neighbour does need my good works and my loving sacrificial service. My neighbour needs to know God’s love.

The receptacle that receives grace is rest. We rest in the grace, love and forgiveness of Jesus. All we do is receive. And then we let Jesus live His life in and through us. Whatever happens is whatever happens. We rest in Jesus’ love and leave the results totally up to Him.

The hardest part of grace for me is to believe that I can actually trust it, that I can take my hands off of the steering wheel of my life and the results will not only be good, they will be far, far better than I could have ever dreamed. This is where I get stuck.

But God even has grace for me when I get stuck. When I finally give up and turn to Him, He doesn’t shame me or condemn me. He simply says, “Ok, let’s go!” and He leads me forward in the perfect plan that He has prepared for me.

Living in grace is far, far easier than trying to do life on our own, and the results which God brings in and through our lives are far better than anything we could accomplish.

Dear Jesus, thank You for paying the full cost of saving me. Help me to overcome my internal resistance and live in the freedom and the grace You freely give to me. Help me to rest in Your love. Amen.

Communication


I have been thinking a lot about communication recently and I realize that I am lousy at it, which is ironic given that I am paid to communicate publicly. I am really challenged in this area. What happens with me is that I have a thought in my head, then I say something which I think communicates my thought to another person, and then I assume that they have the same thought in their head that I have in my mind. I continually assume that I have communicated when I really have not.

It is those assumptions I have that trip me up all the time. And behind those assumptions are some nasty bits of soul darkness like pride, the desire to be right and putting myself above others, which is me trying to be God just like our first parents did. (There is nothing new under the sun.)

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Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Good communication begins with a posture of humility and the assumption that I have something to learn in this exchange. This is what fosters curiosity and interest in us for the other person. When we show that we are interested we are showing that we care.The thought we have planted in our mind may have been put there by God, but we cannot assume that we have that thought in its best and final form. Sharing that thought with someone else with the assumption that my idea can be improved and I may not be communicating it properly, not only shows honor towards the other person, it allows that idea to enter the space in between two of God’s creative creations and that idea can then be refined and improved. And when two or more people become involved in a communication process anchored in humility, thoughtfulness and respect, the communication becomes very effective and creative, resulting in better solutions than either individual could have generated on their own.

Of course, not all communication is for creative purposes. Sometimes the purpose of a conversation is simply to communicate information. Sometimes one needs to confront someone else. The same principles apply. Humility, a willingness to learn and a desire to understand all help us to become better at communicating.

And our desire to communicate well is always motivated by the sweet, loving communication that God gives to us. In Psalm 85, we read:

I will listen to what God the Lord says; He promises peace to His people, His faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly. Surely His salvation is near those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. (Psalm 85:8-11)

What beautiful words of love! We don’t need to be anxious or afraid, we don’t need to impose our will on others, we don’t need to make things work out the way that we think that they should. God has everything in His hands, He promises peace to His people and He will not let them end up in a hopeless place. We don’t have to be concerned about ourselves or our own personal agenda anymore. We are free to listen and love knowing that God is going to bring His very good things forward through the many circumstances in our lives.

We give thanks to God for the opportunities that He gives us to communicate with each other! We can look forward with joyful anticipation to the good things that He will bring us in the future!

Giving Our Lives for a Far Greater Cause


Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

The thought of being a sacrifice does not sound very appealing. To sacrifice something means “an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to a deity” and a sacrifice is “an animal, person or object offered in the act of sacrifice.”[1] Who wants to be a sacrifice, even a living one?

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Photo by Tom Parsons on Unsplash

Most of the time, when the word “sacrifice” is being used, it refers to a religious system where sacrifices are needed to get the deity’s attention, favour or help. None of these things are true in the Christian faith. The Bible tells us that, though we need God’s attention, favour and help, it was He that made the first move. God the Son, came down to humanity and embraced our frailty and brokenness by wrapping Himself in human flesh and becoming one of us. Then, Jesus acted contrary to the way that all other religions in the world are set up: He sacrificed Himself to make all things right between us and God. No more sacrifices are needed.

Jesus has done it all. He took away all our guilt and shame, He more than paid the full cost of forgiveness for all people everywhere, He won eternal life for us, He brought us into God’s family as beloved daughters and sons, He gave us the gift of new life with Him and He forged a bond with us that He will never break.

In light of all that Jesus has done for us and the way that our lives have already changed because of Jesus, the word “sacrifice” takes on an entirely new meaning. We don’t need anything else anymore. We already have Jesus. But our unbelieving friends, neighbours and family members do not. Jesus gives us the opportunity to give our lives for a far greater cause than living for ourselves in the here and now. With Jesus, we can be “living sacrifices” as we spend our lives loving those around us with the love that He has first given to us. And something counter-intuitive happens when we do that: as we lose our lives in service to others, we unexpectedly find that we gain a life that we would have never dreamed of having, a life that is rich with meaning and purpose and full of joy and blessing. And we become better people in the process.

Dear Jesus, help me to stop making sacrifices to try to earn Your attention or love. Instead, help me to receive and rest in the unconditional love and infinite that You already have for me. Transform me from the inside out and help me to spend my life loving others with Your love. Amen.

 

[1] Source “Sacrifice,” English Oxford Living Dictionaries (available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/sacrifice).

I Am Convinced


Several years ago, when I was interning to become a pastor, a family in one of the congregations that I served lost a 14-year-old son in an automobile accident. This passage was read at his funeral:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

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Photo by Rhodi Alers de Lopez on Unsplash

Being completely convinced is not a small feat. There are only a handful of things for which we can say, “I am convinced.” We need evidence to make such strong statement. This makes Paul’s words in Romans 8 even more remarkable because he is not talking about an historical fact or a repeatable scientific result. Paul is talking about love. We have learned not to trust love because personal history has shown us that love is fickle. It comes and goes with the mood and the circumstances of the lover. But not in this case.

 

Paul is talking about the love that God has for us. God’s love for us is always infinite and unconditional. God’s love for us will never fail us because God will never leave us nor forsake us. God’s love for us is what moved God the Son to wrap Himself in human flesh and become one of us to save us from sin, death and everlasting condemnation. God’s love for us is what moves the Holy Spirit to flip all the switches in our soul from “God Hater” to “God Lover,” from “No Faith” to “Faith,” from “Condemned” to “Saved,” and from “Spiritually Dead” to “Fully Alive.”

The evidence that convinced Paul is of two kinds. Part of what convinced him was subjective evidence, his personal experience of life with Jesus. Jesus carried Paul through controversies, beatings, and imprisonment, and through it all, God used Paul’s gifts, experience and knowledge to convince others that God loves them and they also followed Jesus. But Paul also knew that there was ample objective evidence—information that was open and available to all—that was convincing. For example, Paul knew how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament promises of a Saviour from God. Paul also knew that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that Jesus had appeared to many witnesses after He rose from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus is the proof of God’s faithful love for us. It is because Jesus rose from the dead that Paul can say that nothing, not even death, will separate us from Jesus and His great love for us. Convinced of God’s love, we get to experience the joy of being carried by that love through thick and thin, until the day that Jesus carries us home and faith turns to sight. Then we will know that God’s love never fails.

Dear Jesus, please convince me of the strength and the truth of Your love. Help me to trust in You and Your love in good times and bad. Give me opportunities to share what has convinced me with others in the hope that they might also be convinced. Thank you for Your love! Amen.

God’s Ultimate Judgment


“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

The most well-known Bible verse these days is probably “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Mt. 7:1). What people want to avoid is feeling condemned, but there is something else in play here.

The reason that we should not judge others is because whenever we condemn someone else, we also condemn ourselves because we do the same things. This is not only true in a general sense (“we are all sinners”) but also specifically, for we tend to see and loathe in others the sins that tend to be a problem for us.

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But the solution is not to cast off all discernment and let everyone do whatever they want and not say anything because we are all sinners. That notion is ludicrous and will lead to much harm and regret. Just because I got caught in a trap does not mean that I should not warn people when they play near the same trap.

No, the solution is to peel back the layers of our onion-like soul before God and be totally transparent before him. He already knows our sin. When we confess our sins to God, we are not telling him something that he doesn’t already know. Confession is agreeing with God.

We agree with God that we are sinners through and through. But we can’t stop there because God does not stop there. For God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to be our Saviour. And Jesus willingly went to the cross where he took all the judgment for all sin upon himself and paid the full consequence of that sin. Jesus was condemned. We were set free. As people who cling to the coattails of Jesus, God’s ultimate judgment of us is that we are his forgiven, beloved, beautiful children.

Let us rest in the gracious judgment of God. Let’s make this our core identity. Then when we tell someone that they are doing something wrong, our motivation will be love for them. If our love for others is so great that we are willing to suffer personally so they can have a better life with God, that is the kind of love that the Holy Spirit can use to change the trajectory of someone else’s life forever.

Dear Jesus, thank you for your love and forgiveness for me. Help me to be both wise and loving in my relationships with others. Help me to love other people like you love them. Amen.