Browsing Tag

peace

Book Highlights, Faith, Spiritual Growth

Finding Fullness of Joy

December 5, 2016

 

 

We humans naturally pursue what is pleasurable. We were created with innate longings for joy and enjoyment and spend our lifetimes capturing it wherever we can. That longing is a good thing, planted by our Creator to draw us like a magnet toward the fountain of pleasure that is found in Him.

The problem is that sin has distorted things and we’re constantly getting drawn into poisoned pleasures that lead to death. As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8, the mind set on satisfying the cravings of the flesh is death. The earthly pleasures found in sex, food, entertainment, days off, observing the beauties of nature, and the like ultimately all fall short. We consume them and walk away needing more. The pleasures and joys of this earth aren’t full. We need more than what they offer.

Where pleasure is found

In Psalm 16 David gives an answer to the pleasure-seeking ache that every human has. He writes,

“You make know to me the path of life;
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
– Psalm 16:11

Where are we to find the joy and enjoyment that we need? In the presence of God.

Almost every Christian I know would agree with this in general, but in practice we tend to function as if we don’t quite believe what David’s saying here. Note that it’s not in the Bible that David says joy is found. It’s not in church. It’s not in quiet times. It’s in God’s presence. That means that if we’re in God’s presence we can have joy and pleasure.

The question is, where is God’s presence? If we want joy and pleasure and it’s experienced by being close to God, then we must know where God is and go there.

The Apostle Paul states what echoes throughout the Psalms and the rest of Scripture when he declares God, “is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28). God is present throughout all the earth. He fills his creation as the waters fill the sea. As David wrote in another Psalm,

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
– Psalm 139:7-10

Long story short, God’s presence is everywhere. You can’t get away from it.

This truth has amazing implications for our search for joy. If it is both true that God is present in all places and that in his presence there is total joy and pleasure, that means we can walk in constant fullness of joy, regardless of our location or situation. In the midst of family conflict we can have joy. In the midst of moving to a new city and knowing no one we can have joy. When nothing goes according to plan we can be pleased, because God is present and in his presence is pleasure forevermore.

How to get there

In another Psalm we read,

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
– Psalm 100:4

Want to get into God’s presence where there is pleasure and joy unending? The way to get there is is thanksgiving and praise. Thanksgiving gets you through the gates, praise into the courts of his presence. If we want pleasure and joy we must put praise and thanksgiving as high priorities in our lives.

When you’re feeling dissatisfied with life is your response to start thanking God for all the good he’s given you? When you’re stressed and joyless do you turn on the praise by declaring to God his glorious character and promises? God is present in all places and at all times, and we can encounter that presence in a real, mind-and-emotion-impacting way through thanksgiving and praise.

If you’re struggling to grasp joy and find pleasure in God or in life, set aside regular time to worship. Read the Scriptures and respond with verbal, out-loud declaration of thanks when you read something good. Write out a list of what you’re thankful for in this moment. Turn on worship music and soak in the lyrics. Inevitably you’ll find that as you do so your heart and Spirit rises to the joy and pleasure that is found in the presence of God. And that, my friends, will make all the difference.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Spiritual Warfare

He will surely do it

June 23, 2016

 

 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

What beautiful words in the chaos of a world that is anything but sure! My friends, let us ground ourselves in this truth today; our God is faithful, and what he has said he will do he will surely do. When tomorrow is uncertain, when waking up and entering the day is simply a burden, comfort your spirit with the truth that “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

What He Will Do

The Scriptures abound with declarations about what God has promised to do. From eternal salvation to indescribable joy, He who has called you has given his word, and faith calls you to take him at that word. I want to briefly touch on a few key things from this passage in 1 Thessalonians that we can build our lives upon today. What exactly is it that the faithful one has said He will do?

He will give you peace.

He’s the God of Peace, so he gives peace. Your anxiety and worry evaporate when you come near Him. Sin is the seed that grows anxiety, fear, worry, and ultimately death (James 1:15). When sin enters into our lives it separates us from the God of Peace, growing walls that trap us in the darkness of our own minds, which inevitably leads to the downward spiral of depression, fear, anxiety, and the like.

This God, however, has uprooted sin and nullified its power by the blood of Christ. He has shed abroad the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus. Look to him, and you will find peace as he frees you from sin.

He will sanctify you completely.

This progressive freedom from sin is known as sanctification. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines sanctification this way:

  • 1 : to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use
  • 2 : to free from sin
  • 3a : to impart or impute sacredness, inviolability, or respect to

The work of Christ has set you free. The work of Christ has set you apart completely. You’re in a whole new category. You’re no longer defined by your sin; you’re now defined by the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Note the surety of this sanctification. He who has called you will do it. It’s not a weight on your shoulders. What joy and freedom is found in knowing and experiencing this!

He will keep you blameless

Being in the process of sanctification doesn’t mean that you never sin. We have a sin nature until the day when Jesus comes again. However, according to these verses (and plenty of others) God keeps us blameless. Can you grasp that? You’re blameless! In Romans 8 Paul states it another way, declaring that there isn’t any condemnation that can stick to those who are in Jesus.

When someone tries to blame you for something or condemn you for a past deed, it can’t stick to you. You’re blameless. When your mind fills with accusations of your incompetence and failure and lack of worth, toss those lies aside. The God who is faithful has called you and promised to keep you blameless. He will surely do it.

He will come again

This life is a struggle. Our broken world isn’t any easy place to live. The good news is that the struggle doesn’t last forever. This groaning creation will soon be re-created in glory, because Jesus is coming again and will restore all things. The day of the coming of the Lord will be both beautiful and terrible, and though it may seem slow in coming it will surely come.

He will love you

He will give you peace. He has sanctified you. He will keep you blameless. You don’t do this kind of stuff for someone you don’t love. Jesus came and purchased our peace, sanctification, and blamelessness because he loves us. From the delight in his Spirit the Father and the Son acted according to love and purchased for us salvation.

Unlike the loves of this world, this one isn’t going away. It’s here till the end. It’s not the love of the boyfriend who is there to get what he wants from you and then ditch. It’s not the love of the girl looking for comfort and validation. No. This is the settled, immortal love of the creator of all the earth.

He is faithful. He’s given his word and He will surely do it. Rest in that. Learn to let peace be your path this week!

 

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship, Faith, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Wrong Stronghold

June 9, 2016

 

 

 

A few weekends ago the Threshingfloor Communities leaders spent a weekend together to learn, pray, and plan for the next several months of ministry. During our time at the cabin we all packed into near Park Rapids, MN we watched this sermon by Francis Chan. It led to some great discussion about our personal prayer lives, whether or not we are truly seeking God as our “one thing,” and what exactly we are looking to as our stronghold of safety, rest, and peace.

We live in a world where we are under constant attack. Rare is the day where a person can go from sunrise to sundown without some sort of difficulty, whether it be emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, or otherwise. We are fragile creatures, even the strongest of us. A harsh word can bring up pain from a decade ago and make it as real today as it was then. A small failure can, in a moment, unearth all our well-hidden insecurities.

We all need a place where we can take our armor off, lay down, and rest without fear. We need a stronghold. Even just the knowledge that we have such a stronghold is often enough to carry us through difficulty.

The Strongholds

It’s because of this need for a stronghold that we are constantly seeking and building for ourselves safe place after safe place. Having a rough week? The weekend can be your stronghold, with its (hopefully) less hectic schedule and freedom from work hours. Feeling lonely? The next romantic relationship will be your stronghold. Once you get it, you’ll have the safety and joy that will protect you from the pain of the world, right? Tired? Depressed? Sleep can be your stronghold, with its gentle oblivion to guard you from the weary difficulty of life.

The list can go on. Our ingenuity in stronghold construction knows no bounds. Food, music, movies, anger, traveling – you name it, we humans have at one point or another tested it as a stronghold to protect us from the difficulties of this world.

The problem with these strongholds is that, inevitably, they fail. More often than not when they fail they leave us worse off than we were before. The weekend goes by too fast and is too busy and Sunday night you watch the walls of your stronghold crumble around you, leaving you in the painful world of the weekday once again. The person you were pursuing that romantic relationship with? Yea, well, turns out she’s not interested (despite the signs to the contrary). The stronghold falls and you’re left wandering in loneliness again. And – of course – you weren’t able to fall asleep and spent the night tossing and turning without any real sleep.

The funny thing is that, for most of us, when our stronghold of choice fails us we don’t seem to get the message that it’s not working. Instead we retreat further inside and build the walls higher, bar the doors more strongly. If I didn’t get the weekend I needed this time, then next weekend will be really really resting. The next job will be fulfilling. Little do we know that each time we do this we’re building around ourselves not walls for protection, but walls that hold us captive.

Demolition Time

According to Paul, the Gospel comes in to demolish false strongholds. The good news of Jesus Christ is dynamite that blasts through the walls that we thought kept us safe but in reality keep us captive. In 2 Corinthians 10 he writes,

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. -2 Cor 10:3-5

My friends, we don’t wage war like the world does. We don’t build the strongholds that they do. Jesus won’t let us, because he knows that those false strongholds are lies set up against the knowledge of God. Our Lord loves us too much to let entertainment, food, sex, relationships, or any other false stronghold keep his children from freedom, so he will gladly come and destroy the walls around us and leave us standing frightened and in the open until we turn to the only true stronghold.

The True Stronghold

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
-Psalm 27:1

David knew well what it meant to need a place to hide. He literally had people attempting to kill him, something that most of us probably haven’t experienced. In the midst of that painful, fearful situation David needed a stronghold. Instead of turning to some earthly thing – hiding and feeling sorry for himself or taking up arms and doing battle against those who came after him – he declares “The Lord is the stronghold of my life.”

When we learn to build Christ around us as the stronghold of our lives, we can laugh and be fearless even when there’s chaos and war around us. We will say with David, “Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”

Rough week at work with lots of tension? Jesus is peace, patience, and hope. Feeling lonely? God is present with you, closer than any significant other, and he’s given you a family in Christ. Tired and depressed? The Lord gives rest to those whom he loves, and those who trust in him run and do not faint. Worried and anxious? Don’t worry about tomorrow, because your Father in heaven knows what you need and loves you.

The one true stronghold is found in Jesus; all others are failures and lies.

The question is, how do we get there? How do we get to the place where the Lord is indeed our stronghold? David gives us the key to entering the stronghold of the Lord in verses 4-6 of Psalm 27:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

When the one thing that we pursue is to be in God’s presence, then we are kept safe in God’s tent. Note that – the walls of God’s tent are stronger than the stones of the greatest fortress we could build. In the presence of the Lord there is safety. Make abiding in Him the center of your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical reality and your “head will be exalted…” and you will “sacrifice with shouts of joy”. He is a stronghold that will not fail. Indeed, as Luther famously penned, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”

Christian, where is your stronghold today? What are you looking to for protection, comfort, and hope? Is it Christ or something of this world? Don’t lock yourself within the deadly confines of a worldly stronghold. It will make you a captive and a slave. Instead, look to Jesus and see that in him are the walls that shall never fail and the peace that surpasses all understanding.

 

 

 

Culture, Evangelism, Spiritual Growth

As a Flood

December 14, 2013

They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
– Isaiah 11:5-9

Isaiah 11 is a picture of the coming kingdom of Christ, where peace and joy have dominated the wickedness, violence, and wrath that filled the earth before the “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (That’s Jesus!) took up his reign. Isaiah’s prophecy looks forward to Jesus’ second coming and the full advent of his kingdom, but I believe that these verses have an important lesson for us to learn in the time-between-times as we herald the coming King and demonstrate the breaking in of his kingdom in the lives of those who have put their faith in him.

Verse 9 reads, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, states that the reason peace will rule over the world is because the knowledge of God will fill the earth like a flood. As we grow in and spread the knowledge of the Lord peace follows.

Christian, is there chaos in your life? Grow in the knowledge of the Lord and peace will fill you as the waters cover the sea. Is your family in a constant state of conflict? Do the work of spreading the knowledge of the Lord and peace will follow. Is crime rampant in your city? Evangelize and bring the knowledge of the Lord to the people of your city and peace will come.

Christ’s kingdom has yet to fully arrive in this world, and until it does there will be struggle, but as the knowledge of the Lord grows so will the peace of Christ. My prayer today is that we would be a people who, drop by drop, fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord until Christ returns with the final flood.

Christian Life, Life, Spiritual Growth

Peace in Chaos

May 6, 2011

 

It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to sit down and write, much less write something worthy of posting here. Between work, the ever increasing time needed for Threshingfloor Ministries, and the pressure of final projects for the school year, I’ve been quite swamped. It’s rare for me to be stressed about anything, but the amount of things on my to-do list for the last month and a half has certainly brought me near to being overwhelmed.
Because of all the pressure, I’ve been pondering a few verses that deal with the concept of peace in the Christian life. There’s plenty to choose from, but two that have been particularly on my mind are Ephesians 2:14 and Philippians 4:7; “For he (Christ) himself is our peace” and, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

What are we to do when the earth around us shakes us when we are meant to have an all-encompassing peace? What can we learn from the scriptures about how we are to respond to stress and struggle in such a way that our peace is sustained? I would argue that a Christian’s being at peace in the midst of chaos is one of our greatest ways to witness to the world around us. They will indeed find it strange and attractive if we are steadfast and at rest where they are shot-fused and on edge. Being at peace is a critical thing in the Christian life.
Here’s a couple of my thoughts as I’ve mulled over the scriptures and examined myself to see what it is that keep me from being at peace in the midst of the chaotic life I’m currently in.

I don’t have faith in God’s promises
The first and most present reason to me is simply unbelief. If we really believed God’s promises with the surety that we are meant to have, there is nothing that would cause us to worry. We would actually feel the fact that all things are working for our good in Christ. When we read in Psalms that the Lord gives his beloved rest, our confidence in that promise would free us to rest easy and sleep soundly. When we read in 1 Peter that the trials that happen in our lives are working for us a greater work of glory, we would not worry or fear any pain that comes our way. Ultimately, our lack of peace stems from a lack of faith.

I’ve been re-reading (for the 3rd time) The Complete Green Letters by Miles Stanford, and have been greatly convicted by one quote from A.W. Tozer that reads,

“We are forever asking God to do things that he has either already done or cannot do because of our unbelief. We plead for Him to speak when He has already spoken and is at that very moment speaking. We ask Him to come when He is already present and waiting for us to recognize him. We beg the Holy Spirit to fill us while all the time we are preventing Him by our doubts.”

Oh how often that is true! We ask God to give us peace when he has already given it to us in Christ, who is himself our peace. Instead of pleading to God for what he has already given, instead, let us be like the father in Mark 9:24 who cries, “I believe; help my unbelief!” and beg the Lord to enable us to have faith in what he has already accomplished. Then and there, as our faith grows, we will indeed come to know that massive peace that comes from resting in the Lord.

My focus is on the wrong things
Secondly, our peace is greatly hindered by our earthly focus. When our minds are more entangled by the day-to-day stress of life than they are with the fact that we are joined into Christ and seated in heaven, it is little wonder that we are so easily swayed. Colossians 3:1-2 declares,

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

As we meditate more on heavenly things and are captivated by the glory of Christ, earthly stressors will lose their power. As Greg Gelburd notes in his post at the Resurgence, much of our stress is the sign of idols in our lives. If we indeed delight ourselves greatly in the Lord and fill our mind with the fact that we are (past tense) seated with Christ at God’s right hand, we will stand strong in the midst of the most terrible storms.

———

By no means are these two things the only ones that contribute to preventing us from having appropriate peace, but I believe that they are critical ones. We must examine ourselves and bring ourselves before the Lord so that he might work upon our wayward hearts. As we grow in faith and allow our focus to be re-directed to the glories of Christ, our lives will be transformed. It is an amazing thing to be able to say with the hymn writer,

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

As we become a people who not only sing that song but know their precious reality, the world around us will see and be amazed and begin to give credence to the gospel that we proclaim. So, brothers and sisters, seek peace. He will not withhold any good thing from the ones he loves. And remember, when I say “seek peace,” that is synonymous with saying seek Christ, for “he himself is our peace”! There is no true peace in in any other source.

Prose

Poem

October 25, 2010


The lake was absolutely calm; a pool of light reflecting the sun as it slumped near the horizon. Soft breezes slipped through the screen door and into the large room, bouncing off its blue walls and making the new roses quiver in their vase on the table. Next to a green ceramic plate full of uneaten food three pages of paper sat, bobbing in the breeze and asking to be read once more by the man who sat, staring out the door at the water. The fifth time’s a charm, the pages rustled.

He ignored their request, drinking absently from a glass of iced tea before standing and remembering. Had it really been three years since they’d first met? Absolutely, and not nearly enough.  It had been raining then, beside a river during spring. He had been walking barefoot through the park, watching the way raindrops filled up the curve of new maple leaves before the weight tipped the new growth and let gravity take over again. There was a poem there in that little pooling and falling. He would have composed it in his mind and written it later if another hadn’t walked by.  A poem wearing a blue t-shirt and black gyms shorts, red hair curling and dripping and eyes smiling.

She glanced his way for a second longer than necessary then continued walking, perhaps surprised to see someone else out in the rain.  He had stood for several seconds, thinking about how many words it would take to capture that moment. The wind had gusted, blowing his hair in front of his eyes, and by the time he had pushed it back his legs were following her. She turned and stopped when she saw him following, watching his approach with a beautifully curious expression.

There had certainly been poetry written then, but never any that satisfied. It was the kind that touched at the edges and captured a bit of the color, but never any that took the whole of their passions down for memory. It was the kind of thing that would have changed people’s lives simply by reading if he had been able to put it onto page, but for the first time in his life words had fallen short. She had laughed that light laughter of hers when he expressed his frustration to her over a picnic eaten sitting in a tree near where they had first met. Plucking an autumn leaf from the branch above her, she balanced it on the palm of her hand, looking at him solemnly and saying that words weren’t everything in life. She blew lightly and the leaf lifted, joining its brethren on a slow flight groundward. He’d written a poem about the moment.   She’d read and said it was excellent.

Someday he would publish those poems, especially the ones she’d liked; the ones about nature and dissatisfaction and hope in the midst of pain.

He drained the last of the iced tea, picking up the plate and silverware and walking to the kitchen. The whole house smelled like summer all year round, except for her room, whose air was more like a forest, full of life and seriousness. Without looking he grabbed tinfoil from the drawer next to the stove and covered the plate, placing it in the refrigerator next to the other. He hated to eat alone.

All this smell of indoor summer was far too stuffy. He grabbed the letter from the table and slid the screen door back, leaving it open as he walked aimlessly down the path past a garden that hadn’t been tended for the last year. They had never really settled on whose job that was, so it had simply sat and gone to chaos.

The path lead him to where he hadn’t particularly intended to go; out onto the wooden dock where they had spread blankets and laid, staring at the stars on clear nights. During the winter they had walked out on the ice-covered the lake, built mountains of snow and sat there, whispering, simply because anything above a whisper seemed unholy. He had kissed her here for the first time, their legs dangling down in the cold water of a fall day. She hadn’t talked for nearly five minutes afterwards, just staring out over the lake at the shadows of the far shore. He had been terrified and about to beg her forgiveness, but she turned to him with warm eyes and moved closer, taking his hand in both of hers and resting her head on his shoulder. No words were needed.

He sat in that same place now, staring into the light of the far shore. Something like a glacier began to move in his chest, moving slowly, reshaping the landscape. Ten minutes passed, and the sun seemed to have stopped setting. Once again, he had no words. A particularly strong gust of wind swept from the far side of the lake and he watched as the glass of the lake became liquid once again, waving rivulets making their way towards him. The pages lying next to him were caught in the breeze, clinging for a moment to the rough wood then flicking upward, lingering as if deciding between land or sea, then spinning out over the water as they separated and went their own ways. Like they were meant to fly alone. The breeze faded, the pages floated for a breath or two, then spun and twisted their way down to rest on the water. In a matter of moments, they would be gone.  Love, water, and paper would dissolve together in time.

He watched the scene unfold with an odd sense of peace; feeling as if this was exactly how everything was supposed to end. Standing, he emptied his wallet, small notebook, and phone from his pocket, setting them on the dock. He pulled his shirt off and stood at the edge, feeling the summer evening cover his body and breathing deep. The sun had written its color on the water; both a final golden farewell and invitation all at once. There was a poem there, waiting for him. Another poem he didn’t have enough words for. But words weren’t everything in life.

He bent, flexing his leg muscles and drawing a deep breath. Launched, diving over the open water like he was meant to fly. Gravity took over and he curved, reveling in the way the air rushed across his skin, if only for a few seconds. The surface broke and golden water enveloped his body, cool and electric and alive. He kicked hard into a new world, opening his eyes and seeing new colors and new stories, striking off toward the end of a page.