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Monday, November 25, 2019

Perfect peace 4: No Fear

FLYING HIGH HANNAH from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Shaun's Wildlife Photography, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.John 14:27 ESV
Ever get afraid? I certainly do. I get afraid for my own safety sometimes, or my children's safety or my wife's. I get afraid that the money won't be there for whatever. I get afraid that I won't make a difference in the world. I get afraid of the sound outside my house at 3am that I don't know the cause of. I get afraid when I watch the news and see what's going on in politics, or when I think about how we are slowly polluting our world, or when I think about the fact that there are weapons in existence that could literally kill pretty much every living thing on planet Earth, certainly including all of the human beings. There's a lot out there to be afraid of.

But you know what? Jesus clearly said in the Bible verse above that we can reject fear. We can simply not let it be part of our experience of the world. Apparently there's a way to put up a stop sign: sorry, Mr. Afraid and Mrs. Troubled, you're not allowed here! Doesn't that sound ridiculous? Again, remember, I'm not making it up. It's in the Red Letters, right there!

So how do you do that? Well through the rest of this mini-series we've learned that it's done by focusing on the things of God. If you haven't read the other posts, I invite you to click "Back to the beginning" below and go through them all. Let's practice turning that stoplight red, putting down that gate, and not letting fear in. Wouldn't a life free from fear be an amazing thing?

Back to the beginning

Monday, November 18, 2019

Perfect Peace 3: Life or Death

Fork from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 Gareth Jones, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. - Romans 8:6 ESV
Wow... "to set the mind on the flesh is death." That seems really extreme, doesn't it? By the way - when the Bible says "the flesh" it doesn't mean what we mean when we say flesh. It doesn't mean any part of your physical body, at least not directly. It means your human nature, specifically the darker part of it. The part of it that makes you want to cut someone off on the highway when they did the same to you. The part that makes you want to yell at someone when you feel angry. The part of you that wants to eat more dessert than is healthy for you.

So, setting your mind on that is equated to death. We already found out that focusing our minds on Jesus is a catalyst for peace inside, and we found out that we don't really need to be anxious about whether we have all the stuff we need (like food, clothing, shelter) because God knows and promises to provide. But this verse seems to indicate that if we focus on the wrong things, it will lead to some sort of death!

I don't believe that a person who has given his or her heart to Jesus can experience spiritual death in Hell. I think that once you've given that to Him, you can't take it back. If that's the case, and since we all know that it's perfectly possible for us to focus on sinful things, this must be a different kind of death.

The flip side (after the word "but") is focusing on the Spirit, and the result of that is not only life, but peace. Remember, in the Hebrew language, peace means not only inner tranquility, but physical health and material prosperity. Maybe the "death" here manifests itself in lack of inner tranquility, or maybe it manifests itself as getting fat because we ate too much dessert, or maybe it manifests itself in our bodies becoming sick because we spend our time being angry and bitter against others. There are lots of things that could easily fit under the heading "death" here. My personal take is that when we spend all of our time focusing on gratifying our sinful natures, eventually, the "death" will be physical - maybe actually dying early, but maybe the loss of health and quality of life. Think about this passage from Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. - Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV
Maybe I'm wrong and living for the sinful nature doesn't cause physical sickness, but this passage pretty clearly indicates that if you're not putting all your trust in the Lord, you're missing out on some actual physical health benefits available to you. I'm not making this up - I'm just calling them as I see them!

The next time you start to get angry, or anxious, or gluttonous, or whatever Achilles heel your flesh presents to you - take a second to intentionally set your mind on the things of the Spirit. Let's see if God's health plan starts kicking in!

Back to the beginning

Monday, November 11, 2019

Perfect Peace 2: Needs

The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. - Romans 14:17 ESV
This verse is about more than having Subway and a Diet Coke. I think that when this verse says "it's not about eating and drinking" it's more broadly talking about everything we need. Jesus made a similar statement in Matthew 6:31-33:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Jesus added clothing to the mix. I think we can also add in the car you drive, the job you work, the house you live in, the computer or phone or tablet you're reading this on - anything you need or want. These verses are saying that those things are irrelevant to your inner spiritual life. If you keep your focus on Jesus (as we talked about last time) then you can have peace, joy, and righteousness in your life regardless of whether you have anything to eat, drink, or wear at the moment. Jesus adds a promise that if you seek God's kingdom above those other things, God will provide the eat, drink, and wear things. That's not to say that if you are hungry and have a $5 bill, you should pray that someone will magically bring you your sub sandwich. By all means, head to the restaurant if that's the food you want. But the food should not be your primary focus at any time. Or your clothes or lack of clothes, or your money or lack of money. Seek God's Kingdom first, and see what happens!

Back to the beginning

Monday, November 4, 2019

Perfect Peace 1: Mind

In the Shadow of the Cross from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Sharon Tate Soberon, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. - Isaiah 26:3 ESV
In the Hebrew version of the Bible, the most ancient copies that we have, when a writer wanted to strongly emphasize something they would repeat the word. In English it might be similar to saying "That was really, really fun!" or "I am so, so tired." The part of this verse that usually is translated "perfect peace" is actually "shalom", the Hebrew word for peace, twice. "You keep him in shalom, shalom." Shalom itself is a much broader word than the English word "peace" - shalom means peace in every part of your existence. Our word "peace" means maybe emotional health, sometimes the absence of physical conflict. Shalom is much more comprehensive. It means emotional peace, physical health, even prosperity. Can you imagine that kind of holistic "peace" except double-timed?

This word "mind" is an unusual one. It's not really the word for "mind" at all, it's the word for your creative imagination. We all imagine things all day long - we anticipate what the driver in front of us is going to do, we think about what we want to eat for dinner, we plan to go to or send our kids to college, we think about what to get someone for Christmas. Those are all uses of our imagination, our creativity. What if every time we imagine something, Jesus was part of it? What if we considered our gift-giving in the light of what would be pleasing to God? Would we be more generous? What if we planned out our weekends based on what we might be able to do for others, not just for ourselves? What if we truly approached all of our plans for the future with Jesus in the picture? Maybe you do that already, but I know I certainly fall short many times a day. Maybe that's because, as this verse says, I don't really trust Jesus with all parts of my life. Or maybe it's because I simply forget to keep my focus where it needs to be.

I've started to consciously take a couple of times a day out to focus on Jesus. It's kind of hard when I'm frustrated with something (especially when that something is myself!) but in those hard spots, it seems to reveal the root of the problem (for example, I may think I'm getting angry because I'm having a hard time with a task, but when I take it to Him, I suddenly realize that I'm mostly afraid that I'm inadequate, that I won't be able to do it). I'd like to challenge you this week to give that a try. You may just find that you begin to experience a peace that will blow your mind!

Back to the beginning

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Perfect Peace

Recently I was reading a little book given to me by a friend that is just Scripture verses arranged by topic, and I came to a section on peace. A few verses jumped out at me, and I wanted to share them along with some brief comments of what went through my mind as I was reading them. I will list the references at the end of this post.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
If we focus on God as we go through our day and trust Him, the gift we will receive is perfect peace.

The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
"Eating and drinking" here are not limited to food intake. Those two things here represent things in the physical world around us, specifically things we need (or at least think we need). God's Kingdom is not effected one way or another by the things around us.

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
Not only does focusing on the things of God result in a life of righteousness, peace, and joy - but the reverse actually results in death! I am of the camp that believes that once you receive God's Salvation through Jesus, you cannot take it back, so I don't think this is talking about spiritual death in Hell. I think this is talking about emotional decay and rot (anxiety, stress, worry) and eventually physical sickness and maybe even untimely physical death.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
Jesus said two things: (1) He was leaving us His peace. HIS peace. Imagine the peace that was present inside of Jesus as He walked the Earth. That's what He left for us. (2) We should not "let" our hearts be troubled and afraid. That implies that if we begin to feel those emotions, there is a mechanism available to the Christian to eliminate those things. WHAT? I can switch fear off like I'm turning off a light?? Seems like Jesus was saying that if you are fearful, it's because you let the fear happen.

I'm going to further elaborate on each of these over the next few weeks, so plan on stopping back by - if you want to read more thoughts about peace between now and then, here are some links to a series I wrote about peace a couple of years ago: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 ...or you can click "peace" in the "labels" section at the bottom of this post.

Scriptures quoted (from the English Standard Version of the Bible): Isaiah 26:3, Romans 14:17, Romans 8:6, John 14:27