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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Peace, part 3 - Think

brain power from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Allan Ajifo, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
Think about this:

The Bible tells us that what we think about affects the amount of peace we have.

I guess that's just logical... if I think about things that worry me all the time, I'll spend all my time being worried. But you know what? I've tried putting things out of my mind, and it's not as easy as just refusing to think about something. You can't "not think." I don't think it's possible.

So if you have to think about something, and you don't want to think about the thing that takes away your peace, what do you think about?
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.
-Philippians 4:8-9 ESV
The Word gives a whole list of things to think about... whatever is:
  • true (the reverse of false)
  • honorable (with good character, dignified)
  • just (righteous, without guilt, following God's laws)
  • pure (clean, faultless)
  • lovely (pleasing, acceptable)
  • commendable (like a good omen)
  • with excellence (virtuous, moral goodness)
  • worthy of praise (commendable)
But you know what? We don't really need a list. We know when we're thinking "good" thoughts - the kind that feel like spring breezes and warm sunshine - and "bad" thoughts - the ones that feel like spider webs and graveyards and despair. The point is, you can't simply boot those bad thoughts. You have to replace them with good thoughts. And if you can't think of anything good on your own, you can always go down this handy list and come up with something! We have to learn how to focus our minds in the right direction if we're going to avoid living in fear.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
-Romans 8:3-6 ESV (emphasis mine)
It seems that our minds have a setting we can set. We can set it to thinking about "the things of the flesh" - which means the things around us that reflect our own desires, especially out of control ones - or we can set it to thinking about the things of God. Remember, Philippians up there gives us a list of examples of those things if you need it! Tweak those settings. Think about the things of God, and the Bible says that your mind will be filled with life and peace.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Peace, part 2 - Guard

Royal Guard at Buckingham Palace from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Loren Javier, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio
...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.
-Philippians 4:6-7 ESV
I blogged here about the mind-blowing peace described in verse 7 - but lately I've been thinking about something else in this passage. It describes that mind-blowing peace as a guard. God's peace is there for protection. Protection from what? From anxiety, says verse 6! If you're feeling anxious, if you're feeling fearful, for some reason peace isn't guarding your mind and your heart right.

In that case, you need to make an adjustment. That adjustment is taking your requests to God in prayer. Actually, it can involve two kinds of prayer, or maybe two intensities of prayer. "Supplication" just means that you're still making a request, but there's a little more desperation to it. Maybe your emotions are coming into it a little bit more. Maybe you're asking God for something that means an awful lot to you. It's getting personal; it's getting real. You're laying it on the line: "God, You're my last hope for this. Please help me!"

But you're not praying selfishly. You're bringing your need to God, but you're also bringing a heart filled with thankfulness. Somehow I think that's a key. What if God doesn't give you what you asked for? Even then, your heart is still filled with thankfulness, because you know God has something even better in store for you.

And maybe that's also how the peace of God can guard your heart and mind. You've presented your requests to a God that you know loves you, and you're filled with thankfulness, because you know that God either is going to fill that request, or do something even better. With that kind of certainty, who can stay anxious?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Peace, part 1 - epilogue

Opening of roadside tomb_0654 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 James Emery, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
A few days after I wrote this post, I was listening to John chapter 20 in audiobook form, and I heard this familiar story:
    Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, "They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!"
    Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they went home.
As many times as I've heard this, this part struck me as weird. They did what? A hysterical woman ran to find them and showed them evidence of the most amazing miracle in the history of the world, and they took a look and then just... went home?
    Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. "Dear woman, why are you crying?" the angels asked her.

     "Because they have taken away my Lord," she replied, "and I don't know where they have put him."

     She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. "Dear woman, why are you crying?" Jesus asked her. "Who are you looking for?"

     She thought he was the gardener. "Sir," she said, "if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him."

     "Mary!" Jesus said.
     She turned to him and cried out, "Rabboni!" (which is Hebrew for "Teacher").
     "Don't cling to me," Jesus said, "for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

     Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, "I have seen the Lord!" Then she gave them his message.
Peter and John ("the other disciple" was John) came to the tomb, understood what had happened, satisfied their minds, and went home. Mary, on the other hand, was so emotionally wrapped up in her love for Jesus that she stayed around... and was there long enough to experience Jesus.

Don't be satisfied to approach Jesus intellectually, Theologically, methodically. Take time to reach out to Jesus with your heart. When you do, He will show up.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Peace - part 1

This past January, I came to the end of my rope. I had spent the whole year trying very hard to accomplish something I felt was important, something I felt was God's will, and it just wasn't happening. I was stressing out, and I didn't know what to do about it. If you've been around this blog for a while, you probably know that I believe that what we call "stress" is actually just plain old fear - but knowing that didn't really help me this time. This particular stress was so bad that it was barely even trying masquerade as anything but fear anymore; a couple of times over the course of the year I had seriously thought it was going to erupt into a full-blown panic attack.

So, there I was, at the end of my rope, fresh out of ideas, and I knew that the only thing I had left was Jesus. That sounds very pious and comfy, but if it ever happens to you, you'll realize that it is NOT a fun place to be in. It can feel very scary.

I was not enjoying myself. I was not feeling confident. I was crying out to God... which also sounds very pious, except I wasn't being pious. I was being raw. I was being honest. I had discovered something about myself: I had grown up in a subculture of Christianity that proclaims God's grace, but still tends to apply certain rules to Christianity. Do this, and this, and this, or else you may stop God from blessing you. Approach God with proper reverence as your King while also approaching Him as your Father. And don't phrase your sentences a certain way, because if you do, you are displaying a lack of faith. Sometimes in my prayers, I bring those things with me, and I wind up sort of formulating a prayer instead of just being me talking to God. What I discovered was that what I had thought was faith and humility was actually insecurity and pride.

So this time, I wasn't following the Christiany rules. In fact, I was being very deliberate to avoid trying to follow the rules. I needed help, not to feel like I was doing things right. I was clearly not doing something right, was how I figured it, because the situation wasn't resolving! I made a decision that I had no reasons left to try to do anything right. I basically just took out my heart and showed it to God, without trying to dress the situation up at all. Look here, God. Look at this heart. This hurts. And I don't know what to do. I know you can help me... will You?

You, my friend and reader, are right now telling me that yes, God would help me. And that's exactly the point. I know the Word of God says He can and will. But I couldn't see it happening, and I had to bring my sadness and fear and discouragement to God, not my solid theology. My brain was fine; it was my heart that was having problems. So that's what I brought to Him.

And the strangest thing happened. I told God that I was going to leave the situation up to Him. I wasn't going to try to force things anymore - I would do what needed to be done, but I would let Him bring the right results to me in His time. And to my amazement... God gave me peace. Not an immediate solution: peace. Peace with no visible results to back it up. Peace with no logic to it at all. Mind-blowing peace. I was not stressed at all. I was not panicky. I was just filled with peace.

Fast forward to now. I wanted to tell that story here, and I want to share over the coming weeks some things I've been learning from the Word about peace. Of course, you can also check out what I've written in the past here about both Peace and Fear, but stay tuned for some new entries coming up. I hope you get something good out of them!

The situation I mentioned still hasn't completely resolved itself, by the way. In fact, I've had a couple of fearful moments since then, and I've had to deliberately return to this attitude of approaching God as someone who is helpless without Him, not someone who thinks he can pray the right prayer to get Him to spring into action. But when I do approach Him with humility - and, honestly, with faith, because if I know I can't do it and I don't even try, then that's putting all of my eggs in His basket - when I approach God that way, not only do I immediately begin to receive His peace, but sometimes amazing things start to happen before too long.

Maybe I'll share one of those stories soon!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Crossway Bibles giving away ESV Global Study Bible for free!

You read right... Crossway is giving access to their Global Study Bible away for free! (This is of course digital access only; don't expect them to mail you a physical book for nothing.) Crossway has been so generous over the years in providing digital access to incredible resources like this for minimal or no cost - take advantage of the opportunity to dig deeper into the Word!

The easiest way to jump into the ESV GSB: ESVBible.org (click "Apps" then click "Global Study Bible Online"). You can also purchase access to a number of other study Bibles there, if you are so inclined!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Working Together

Walking boot from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 VisitSormland, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
In my family, we've been working on some things lately. I've been working on the details of a new mortgage for the new house we plan to move into next week. My wife has been working on getting boxes and getting things packed up for the move. My son is working on fundraising for a missions trip he's going on this summer (and, by the way, if you would like to make a tax-deductible gift toward that, let me know!) The other day I was thinking about the balance of our own effort and God's provision, and a couple of things came to me.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Did you notice that word "together"? Who is working together in this verse? Strangely enough, notice that strictly speaking, it is not God that is "working together"! The things are working together. Maybe that's splitting hairs a bit, because God is certainly behind the whole deal, but to the casual observer, it looks like things are just coming together for this person who is pursuing God's purpose. I think this verse also implies that the person who loves God is working toward a goal, and that the circumstances (some of which may be negative) are ultimately working together with the person to make things turn out all right.
The heart of man plans his way,
   but the LORD establishes his steps.
I think God expects us to think through problems. I think He expects us to make plans and put them into motion. When we do that, though, He ultimately is the one that makes things happen. He is the one that makes things work together for our Good. He is the one who establishes each step that we take.

Seek the Holy Spirit's guidance! Make wise plans! And then put them into action, knowing that even if something seems to go weird on you, God is guiding each step and making even that unforeseen situation work for your good. Then when all of those things come together and make something wonderful happen, don't forget to tell people about it! That's your chance to give God the glory!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Epiphany 2015

My 7-year-old daughter has been asking about "Three Kings Day" ever since Christmas. She's been really excited about it! She really loved what we gave her last year, and she was looking forward to getting something else this year. How great is that, when your kids are excited to receive something which will remind them about Jesus? I was excited too... this is one of my favorite times of the year, when I get to speak things over each member of my family by giving them a special token of was my wife and I see in them. If you haven't yet tried it yourself... you really should!

This year when I sat everybody down (I always insist on sitting on the floor next to the Christmas tree) I wanted to explain a few things about the Magi. First, I read the verses in Matthew that talk about them:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

(Matthew 2:1-2 ESV)
I told them that we don't really know exactly where these "wise men" came from, but some think that they may have come from the region of Babylon, and perhaps they came because they were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. I read them this:
Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.

(Daniel 9:25 ESV)
This is from a prophecy given to Daniel in Babylon. The "weeks" are actually weeks of years, not days. The angel was telling Daniel exactly when the Messiah was going to be born! A man of wisdom in ancient Babylon would certainly be familiar with the writings of Daniel, who was one of the wisest advisers any Babylonian king had ever had. Maybe they were looking at their watches and wondering when it was going to happen!

Then I read this:
I see him, but not now;
   I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
   and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
   and break down all the sons of Sheth.

(Numbers 24:17 ESV)
These were words given to a Gentile prophet named Balaam that talk about a future human person, but compare him to a "scepter" (meaning, he will be a king) and also a "star". This was widely considered a prophecy of the Messiah in those times. Assuming that these learned Gentiles knew about Daniel's prophecies and also about this one by Balaam, and assuming they had done the math and realized that Daniel's timing had elapsed, when they saw a "star" in the sky, of course they were going to go where it led them!

After explaining all of this, I told them that there are two things the Magi did that are what we want our Epiphany gifts to inspire us to.
  1. The Magi knew the Word of God. They didn't have all of it that we have now, but they knew the parts of it that they had. We want our family to know the Word.
  2. They searched for Jesus. They physically went looking for Him! We don't go anywhere physically now, of course, and Jesus has promised He is always with us. But we want our family to seek out ways to draw closer to Him.
With all of that out of the way, we went on to the gifts!


First, my daughter opened her gift. Last year we gave her a storybook, and she and I read through all of the stories several times in the months after we gave it to her. After going through it a couple of times we went on to other storybooks, but my wife (who tucks the kids in at night) told me that our little girl still keeps the book by her bed, and every night before she goes to sleep she reads one of the Bible verses. We decided to get her a book called Little Miss Grace Promise Book which has several Bible verses on each page, so she would never run out! We also bought her a bookmark to keep her place (the book has a ribbon bookmark built in, but we loved the one we found). She was so excited! She even took it to show her grandma later that night.


Next it was my son's turn. This year he entered high school, and not only is he taking his studies very seriously, but he is taking his music very seriously. He plays trumpet, and he is among the best in the school band, even as a freshman. My wife and I are both musicians also, and we know that one of the worst enemies any musician has is his own self-doubt. We gave him a little token, roughly the size of a quarter, that he can carry around with him. It says "No Doubt" on it, and has a Scripture on the back to remind him to never doubt God, and never doubt himself. (I don't have a link for the token, but here's a keyring with the same design.)


Later, after we had all opened our gifts, my son said "Why is it that the best gifts are always so tiny?" It may sound like irony to someone who doesn't know him, but he was being very serious. That little token apparently meant a lot to him!

Next, I gave my wife her gift. Like many women, she loves roses, and I gave her this mug, which just inside the rim where you can hardly help but see it when you take a sip has a Scripture that I hope she reads hundreds of times this year.



Finally, for the first time, this year I received a gift too! My wife had bought me the hugest coffee cup I have ever owned. It's a 20-oz mug, and it has a Scripture on the back of it (where you see it when you pick it up to drink). Because of things I've mentioned to her in recent weeks, she knew this particular verse would be meaningful to me. (If you stay with me in the coming weeks you will get to find out some of what she was thinking of when she bought it.)


(Next to a "normal-sized" cup for scale)

After everyone had received their gifts, we went over to my mom's house - Three Kings Day is also the start of the season leading up to Lent, and where we are from (Louisiana) there is a special kind of cake called "Kings Cake" that you can serve at parties this time of year. She had some ready for us, and we had something ready for her: we had gotten her a little insulated cup with a picture of the kids on it and a little note they had written her. (I didn't take a picture of it.) We had another little mini-party at her house, and that was our celebration!

By the way - I know I always post pictures of our Epiphany gifts here, but that's not done in order to brag. I describe our gifts and post pictures here hoping to inspire you, reader, to take some time to really think about the people in your life and what word from God you would like to speak into their lives. To do this right you really have to put some effort into it, and find something that is both meaningful and useful. If it's not useful, they won't have it out as part of their lives for the next year, and if it isn't meaningful, then it's just more clutter around the house. But if you approach Epiphany gift-giving with thoughtfulness and love, maybe you'll have someone who is still, after a year, reading her storybook every night before bed. Maybe your one little purchase will make a huge difference when they need it. Maybe you can start the new year off with something genuinely special!