Thursday, November 28, 2013

Season of Peace? by Greg York

Season of Peace?


We’re entering the season where we sing about Jesus being the “prince of peace” a little more than usual, the season when the phrase “peace on earth” becomes more a part of our conscious vocabulary.


Peace, though, is one thing most of us do not have much of these days. There’s always someplace else to go, someone else to contact, something else to do. Our lives become stretched to the breaking point, stressed to the limit, and our margins are paper thin if not non-existent.


This is one area where even Christ-followers seem almost without a fight to have yielded the field to the dominant culture around us. If our ministers or elders or other “model Christians” are not “busy” all the time, then they must not be doing their job. With cell phones on our hips or in our pockets or on the nightstand next to our heads, everyone now seems to “have to” be available 24/7/365. And, if not, the level of “commitment” is suspect.


In that mix of “chosen busyness” our relationships easily become as frenzied and fragmented as the people in them, whether those relationships are within our families or within our church family.


Our understanding of the world, then, is built on sound-bytes and all that can be communicated in no more than 140 characters and this moment’s “next big thing.” Very little about our lives is “whole”—and it appears to become more and more fragmented with each passing year.


But, to borrow the theme of our current sermon series, that doesn’t have the aroma of Christ about it.


Jesus just didn’t seem to be in a hurry, could sleep in a storm, brought calm to harried situations, stopped to take time with people “along the way.”


In short, he was a man of “peace.”


Funny, then, that we who are in such a hurry, in such a frenzy, say that we are following him.


Remember what he said to his closest followers the night before he was killed, what he said to them right before he was arrested (don’t you think that would make you feel a little harried and frenzied?!?)—John 14.25-27: I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.


And again, a few minutes later—John 16.28-33: ‘I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.’ 29 His disciples said, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.’ 31Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? 32The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’


But, with all due respect, we might say, what can Jesus teach us about “peace”? After all, he lived in a world without cell phones, “must see TV,” or Twitter. He did not have children who come equipped with their own schedules. He did not have your boss. Or, your clients.


It’s a legitimate question. But, relatively speaking, did Jesus not have more important things to “get done” than we do? All he had to do was live a life that was exemplary in every way, train some hard-headed people to carry on his work, and die for the whole world. No pressure there.


And yet he lives God’s peace, God’s shalom.


He gives us a big clue how he does that in that last quote from John’s Gospel, there in vv. 28 and 32. Came from the Father, going to the Father. Not alone because the Father is with him.


Jesus did not live a life of peace because he had cleared his schedule, avoided certain people, and gotten enough rest. Maybe he did all those things at times, but they were not the core of his “peace.”


Jesus lived a life of peace because he had learned to live every moment aware of the Father’s presence.


Jesus carves out grounding time in prayer with God over and over. Not just as an “example for us,” but because that is where he found his peace.


Carve out some grounding time with God. Even for just a few moments. Feel the peace of the Father’s presence. And then let the peace of those moments start to spread their “contagion” throughout all your moments.


…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3.15).

Thursday, November 21, 2013


“I told you that I loved you when I married you.  I’ll let you know if I ever change my mind.”

I hear that comment often used as a joke referring to the lack of daily love shown by an oblivious husband.  What makes it funny is that so many of us guys tend to ‘resemble that remark.’  I know I don’t tell my wife how much she means to me nearly often enough, and I think it’s because I don’t really understand the way that each new day hits the reset button in my life.  Each day is a fresh start.  Neither good nor bad has yet occurred.  Both good and bad have the potential to dominate my day.  Often, I’m the one who can decide which has the reins.

As I was thinking through this article, this verse came to mind:

This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Psalm 118:24 (NASB)

Which day?  This one!  Today.  The one you are currently residing in.  The only one that we can directly impact right now.  God made it…we decide whether or not to rejoice in it.

Today is the only day that you and I can directly affect.  Yesterday is gone.  What’s done is done.  Tomorrow is not yet here.  It is still being formed in the mind of God.  However, today is available.  It is here and ready for us to make some decisions about what to do with it.

I’d rather just make decisions once and for all.  I told Nancy that I loved her on April 27, 1985 and I shouldn’t have to keep repeating myself….right?  (Of course, I’m wrong.)  I told God that I was committed to Him on October 11, 1976, and I shouldn’t have to be so repetitious there either…right?  Well, what do you think?

It’s funny though, it seems that the Bible has a different take on these things.  It has something to say about stuff we should do DAILY.  Here are some examples:

Matthew 6:11“Give us today our daily bread.”  (Rely on God daily.)

Acts 2:46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  (Daily interaction with other Christians.)

Hebrews 3:13But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  (Build up one another on a daily basis.)

Luke 9:23Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  (A daily decision to put the LORD first and deny our selfish desires.)

I’m sure there are more, but let’s just stop there for now…for today anyway.

What got me thinking this direction was some frustration with myself over a personal failure.  (That’s church code for… uh… a sin.)  The frustration is over the fact that I know I don’t want to lapse into that particular problem anymore…and I make repeated commitments to God to change. 

It goes something like this:  “I’m so sorry.  I’ll NEVER do that again!”

The thing is that “never” is a long time, and my mind can’t seem to hang on to those promises indefinitely.  Soon, other things begin to cloud my judgment, and before long…wham…I’m praying that prayer again.  (Thank God for grace!)

What I’ve finally realized is that I need to make some DAILY commitments.  I need to pursue God daily.  I need to follow God daily.  And, I need to deny myself daily.  I can’t let three or four days (or weeks, or months, or years) go by without recommitting myself. 

Daily commitment is the road to long-term change.  One step (problem, issue, opportunity) at a time.  That is the importance of that one little word that I think we tend to read right over.

I can’t really make a trustworthy commitment for next week, next month, next year…or forever.  But, I can focus on today.   I can deal with the here and the now.

Here’s something I’m going to implement…for now.  (I make no promises as to how long I’ll keep this going because I can only promise what I can affect, and that is today.)   Here’ the idea:

I will start each day with these six personal commitments to God:

1.       I will tell God that I love Him today.

2.       I will commit to being God’s servant today.

3.       I will look for opportunities to share God today.

4.       I will avoid doing (insert problem) today.

5.       I will listen to God today.

6.       I will grow in my (insert fruit of the Spirit) today.

These six things touch all of the primary targets in my daily walk with God.  The Greatest Commandment.  The Great Commission.  Spiritual Growth.  Taking up my Cross.

And, I’m promising only what I can affect….TODAY.

Are you willing to take the DAILY Challenge?

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”  Matthew 6:34  

Monday, November 11, 2013

We Are But a Mist by Craig Hill

As I stood in the emergency room at St Vincent Hospital in Carmel, IN and turned to look again into my wife’s eyes two Sundays ago, I realized her normally indomitable spirit was deeply concerned that she might have more than an inner ear infection causing her vertigo. She’d just come back from her CAT scan and we had not yet gotten the results. She’d had vertigo on an off for about three weeks and that morning it had gotten worse – so bad she could barely think, and hardly walk around. And the doctor wanted to make sure there wasn’t something wrong with her brain – you know, make sure there wasn’t a tumor or something causing her dizziness.

We are, my wife and I, pretty optimistic people, I think. The thought had never occurred to me that something more serious could be wrong with her than an inner ear infection. But I could see in her face, hear in her voice, and see by the tear in her eye that she’d been ground down a bit with the dizziness and now the uncertainty of what was causing it. I thought to myself, “It always turns out alright. We will cope with it, come what may. God will see us through.” But now, I had to admit that you can’t always know what can happen. Things don’t always turn out for a time as being good, or positive, at least not in the short run. What if something was seriously wrong with my beloved Wife?

God said through Peter, “All the people are like grass, and their glory is like the flowers of the field: the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And he said through James, “For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.”

I thought this too this week, when I received word from my Sister that our Father had been in a car accident:  What would happen to him?  She didn’t know the extent of his injuries. He was alive and she was on the way to the hospital out East, back near Philadelphia, where I grew up. But it turned out okay. He was alright, very banged up and bruised at 81 years of age, but okay.

So back to the ER and my wife. I thought surely this will turn out okay, but why should it? Just because I was calm and the Lord has given me an easy life, and nothing really sad has happened to me before, doesn’t mean this is going to turn out okay.

But the statistics! Yes, the statistics of it are always in my head. I think in numbers, in probabilities of outcomes, of charts and graphs and continuums. The statistics were in our favor. The odds were that she didn’t have a brain tumor, that she just had a stubborn ear infection, and could take comfort in that. After all, I got an A in Statistics in college. Surely it would turn out alright with my wife.

But you can’t count on that, can you? Many of you have experienced sudden, unexpected loss, disappointment, and terrible news that you didn’t expect, bad events that you didn’t deserve. Awful, gut wrenching things can happen unexpectedly and for no apparent reason.

And then there is Job. Job lost his family, his wealth, and his health. And his friends came to comfort him, but ended up accusing him. They accused him of deserving to be treated thus. That he must have done some evil to deserve it all. Yet Job did not lose his faith in God. Job got a bit riled and challenged the Lord, but doesn’t that show that he believed in God, because he wanted to talk to Him?

Would I be as strong if my dear Wife suddenly had a brain tumor, and was struggling for her life? But I heard my voice reaching out to her and comforting her. My step drew near and my hand reached out to her and I comforted her that it would all be alright. Blind faith was what was needed to comfort her, and to keep us together, with each other, and with the Lord. I was her comforter and her security, and a calm face and a hopeful demeanor is what she needed, what was called for. And that comes natural to me, but you just don’t know do you?

And in the end the doctor came in with the good news that all was normal with her brain. And he gave her some medicine and it helped her tremendously. And we went home and she recovered greatly over the next few days, and all was well.

For as God said through Paul to the Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose. [] For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.” So even if something bad happens, we must perservere.

James 4:13-17 NIV
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.