Real Peace for Real Life

Yesterday I wrote about finding peace by looking to the Lord and trusting Him with all our concerns. It resonated with many of you, which means there are many of us dealing with a lot of stuff that threatens our peace. And that is true for believers and non-believers. You’ve heard the saying: “Know God, know peace. No God, no peace.” As a believer, we have the privilege of showing the world what peace looks like.

The Scriptures say, “The Lord blesses His people with peace (Ps 29:11). So how is that manifested in our lives? Let’s take a tour of the Bible and see how God’s peace shows up. David said, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (4:8). Peace is a sense of safety and security. David is distressed at the beginning of this Psalm (v. 1), but He turns His thoughts to God’s faithfulness, light, and Joy (v. 3, 6, 7) and sleeps in peace.

Another Psalmist said “Righteousness and peace kiss each other” (85:10). You and I will not experience peace without the righteousness of God that comes through Jesus Christ. The person who does not know God lives in fear of His wrath – even if they don’t acknowledge it. A righteous man or woman has no fear because they have been covered in the blood of Jesus and their salvation is secure.

A person of peace is a person of the Word. “Great peace have they who love your law” (Ps 119:165). God’s holy Scriptures are a treasure trove of peace. Not only to speak peace into our hearts and minds but to guide us in the way of peace. Few things make me more anxious than getting lost. The Bible is our GPS (God Positioning System) for navigating this life so that we arrive at His intended destination – heaven.

And finally, the people of God speak peace into a world that desperately needs it. God lauded those whose “feet bring good news, who proclaim peace” (Is 52:7). Jesus said what lives in our hearts will come out of our mouths (Matt 12:34-35).  If you and I are filled with the peace of God, the peace of God will mark our words and will spill over onto those around us.

That’s just a small sampling of what the Bible says about peace. But it’s enough to make the world crave the peace we have in Christ. Beloved, will you be a conduit of His peace today?

This World is Not My Home

When we moved from Alabama to Florida, we had to adjust to being under Florida’s authority. We had to change driver’s licenses and car tags. We had to pay Florida taxes. We had to vote as Florida citizens.  We had to obey Florida laws. When we moved back to Alabama from Florida, we had to make the same transition as Alabama citizens once again. And even though we lived in Florida for almost 20 years, we always considered Alabama our home. I often said that Alabama red clay still ran through my veins. You know the saying: You can take the girl out of Alabama, but you can’t take Alabama out of the girl. My body may have been in Florida, but my heart was in Bama.

Our union with Christ makes us citizens of a new Kingdom, with a new Ruler. Our identity changes. Our allegiance changes. We are “a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). The problem is that our old nature moves with us and continues the fight for control. The other problem is, our citizenship has changed, but our geographical location has not and we are still under the steady influence of sin.

In Romans 6, Paul reminds us that we who are in Christ are “dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11).  When we came to believe in Christ, we “died to sin” (v. 2), just as He died (v 3). But the grave couldn’t hold Jesus, and it cannot hold us. We have been raised with Him to “live a new life . . . to God” (vv. 4, 10). Somebody say “Hallelujah!”

Yes, a new life, yet still with the same old ingrained patterns of sin and the same old worldly influences. That causes quite a struggle for us as Paul noted in Romans 7. But here’s the good news: “Sin shall not be your master” because “you have been set free from sin” (vv. 14, 18, 22). That means you do not have to obey your sinful desires and the influence of the world anymore. Because “Christ is your life” you can “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly [sinful] nature” (Col.3:4-5).

Here’s the bottom line: before Christ, you and I had no choice but to sin, but now as a believer, if we sin it is because we chose to. It’s a choice that is completely in your hands – and your heart. Beloved, make the choice that says “I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God!”

Why Did God Come to Earth?

Why did God come to earth? What is so important down here that He would put on human flesh and walk among the wicked and the imperfect? Genesis reports that God regularly came to visit and walk with Adam and Eve in sweet fellowship (Gen 3:8). After the fall God came down to bring judgment and punishment (see Gen 11:5, 18:21). The Israelites built Him a sacred place where He could dwell among His chosen people – though they could not approach His presence (Ex 25:8). In one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the Old Testament, their idolatry became so great that He withdrew His presence and left the Temple (Ezk. 11:22-23).

So why did He come back? When John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner and cousin was born his father, after months of silence for his unbelief, declared the answer to our question in a song. He said, “[The Lord] has come . . . to bring salvation . . . to redeem . . . to show mercy . . . to rescue . . . to enable . . . to give us His holiness and righteousness . . . to forgive . . . to shine His light into our darkness . . . and to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Lk 2:67-80). Jesus Himself said that He had come to declare the Good News; “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Mark 1:38, Lk 4:18-21). He came to do the will of His Father, even unto death on a cross (Jn 4:34; Lk 22:42; Phil 2:8).

At the beginning of this devotional, I asked, “What is so important down here that He would put on human flesh and walk among the wicked and the imperfect?” You were. The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus endured the cross and all it entailed “for the Joy set before Him” (Heb 12:2). What was that Joy? You were. It gave Him great delight to know that you would be with Him forever and ever. God came for you Beloved; He came to make you His own child, His treasured possession (Is 43:4). All He did He did for you. You are that important to Him.  

Cheap Grace

I’ve just started reading the biography of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, writer, martyr, and sold-out Christ-follower during the rise of Nazism. He was also a fierce opponent of “cheap grace.”  He wrote the classic “The Cost of Discipleship” in which he stated, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Cheap grace has choked the life out of the modern church.

Cheap grace winks at sin. It accepts the sinful nature as “just who I am” and refuses to fight those ungodly passions. We are far too complacent with sin. I’m not talking about the church’s willingness to tolerate and celebrate sin. I am speaking of you and me and our individual pet sins. David said, “I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me” (Ps 51:3). Maybe it’s always before us because we are holding on to it.

How far are you willing to go to rid yourself of sin? Jesus said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” (Mat 18:8, 9). Wow – that’s pretty extreme! And that’s how seriously we need to take our sins.  Could He have meant this literally? Maybe. But let’s take it down a notch just in case. What are you continually dabbling in that stirs up your sin nature? T.V. shows and movies? Books and magazines? Websites? Relationships? Alcohol? Recreational drugs? Gossip? Anger? Sexual immorality? Idolatry? Ad infinitum. What sin do you “cherish in your heart” (Ps 66:18). Are you willing to cut it off for the sake of Christ?

Jesus paid the highest price to set you free from sin and its power over you. You and I cheapen His sacrifice when we refuse to let sin go.  Jesus added, “It is better for you to enter [eternal] life maimed or crippled or without an eye than to enter hell with all your parts intact” (Mat 18:8,9 – very paraphrased). Which says that those who chose sin have rejected Jesus. The end result is hell.

Beloved, what are you willing to do to honor this costly gift of grace? Or said another way, which do you love more? Christ or your sin?

The Royal Priesthood of the Believer

I am in a group of believers who are writing – or “scribing” – our way through the Bible. Because we deal with smaller portions of Scripture and must slow down and pay attention to every word, we’re seeing things we would have normally missed on our fast-paced Bible-in-a-year plans. We’re nearing the end of Exodus this month and the people are building, weaving, hammering, and crafting all the elements of the Tabernacle.

Today’s text – Exodus 39:1-7 – is focused on making garments for Aaron, who served as the Lord’s high priest. These were “sacred garments” designed “to give him dignity and honor” as he went about his priestly duties (Ex 28:2). And they were a work of love and devotion. When the ancient craftsmen made the ephod, the apron-like garment worn over the robe and under the breast piece, the Scripture says, “they hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut strands to be worked into the blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen.  Can you imagine the amount of dedication and intricate work that required?

But that’s nothing compared to how God is working in you. Everything God does in your life has one aim, to conform you to the likeness of His Son (Rom 8:29). I admit, sometimes that work isn’t pleasant.  Lately, it feels like God is hammering away at me like the craftsmen hammered out that gold. You may feel that He has put you into a crucible for purifying silver over intense, prolonged heat. It might even seem that He has buried you underground like a seed. But the gold adds beauty to the garment, the purified silver reflects the Silversmith and the seed bursts forth from the ground to grow into a fruitful plant.

God has called you and me to be part of His royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9)– not in the order of Aaron, but in the order of His Son, Jesus Christ. Like Aaron, we must be consecrated, cleansed, and made pure for this holy service. Aaron was washed with water and anointed with the blood of a bull. You and I are washed and anointed with the blood of the Lamb of God which cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7). Aaron received beautiful garments to wear; Christ gives us His own righteousness (2 Cor 5:21).

In the hammering and the heat and the darkness Beloved, consider this, God is not just weaving threads of His Son into your life, but making He is you into His very image.

Called to Holiness

“The Lord spoke to me with His strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said, “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the one you are to fear, He is the one you are to dread, and He will be a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:11, 13-14)

The Lord commanded Isaiah – as He commands us – to reject the way of the people and to fear Him alone and to stand firm against ungodliness and unrighteousness. He called His people to stand courageously when all around them bowed to the gods of this world. That same command has run through the history of Christianity since the resurrection of Christ. It is the heartbeat of the saints through the ages, and even today, who faced – and still face – public ridicule, beatings, prison, exile, stoning, lions, burnings, beheadings, and all manner of persecution for their faith. It has been and continues to be the rallying cry of the people of God.

But for Isaiah and the martyrs of the faith – and for you and me – this word is not a call to arms, it is not a call to protest and public rebuttal. It is a call to personal holiness. Notice that the prophet says “The Lord spoke to ME, with His strong hand upon ME, warning ME . . . the Lord Almighty is the one YOU are to regard as holy . . . the one YOU are to fear . . . the one YOU are to dread . . . This is first and foremost a command for the individual to stand firm in the faith in the solitary moments of our lives when no one else sees or hears. The person we present to the world is rarely who we are in our private moments. Which should give us pause before we speak. Before I call out the sins of the world, before I confront the ungodliness around me, I must call out the sin in my own life and confront the ungodliness within me.

Beloved, we have a command to shine the light of Christ wherever there is darkness, but we must first let it shine in the darkness of our own hearts. The message we carry is too valuable and too important to bury it under our own sin.

The Lord spoke to ME . . .

The Way of Holiness

Hebrews 12:14 says “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.”  That’s a mighty strong statement – one that should give us pause. I don’t know about you but I want to see the Lord. That doesn’t just mean I want to lay eyes on Him. The word the writer used there means “to be admitted into intimate and blessed fellowship with God in his future kingdom,” (blueletterbible.org/lexicon). That’s what I want.

If holiness is the condition for seeing God, how do I get holy? I don’t. I have to be made holy.  The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus came to do the will of God (Heb 10:9). But what is the will of God? To make us holy (v. 10), that is, to make us into the very likeness of His Son (Rom 8:29). Paul said that God’s purpose is that we might “be holy and blameless in His sight” (Eph 1:4). That is what the cross is all about. Jesus nailed our sins to His cross (Col 2:13-14) and shed His blood to give us His holiness.

Surely, though, God has some expectations of me. Indeed, He does. He expects me to carry myself according to who I am in Christ. He expects me to choose holiness. Paul (again) said, “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life (1 Thes 4:7). This agrees perfectly with Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Mat 5:8). It’s the exact same “see” as we find in the Hebrews passage. Purity of heart brings holiness.

What does that look like in real life? “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, while we wait . . . for Jesus” (Titus 2:11-12). Saying “No” when the world and our flesh says “I want,” Looking for the way out of temptation (1 Cor 10:13). Submitting to the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:5-17). Turning away from every evil desire and pursuing “righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim 2:22).

God has a highway, “called the Way of Holiness [and] it will only be for those who walk in that Way” (Is 35:8). No wonder Jesus said, “I am the Way . . .” (Jn 14:6). Beloved are you riding on the “Highway to Heaven?”

Perfection!

I never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I knew “perfect” was so far out of my league, I didn’t expect it. That is until I started back to school, and I became discouraged when I didn’t get an A on an assignment or missed even one question on a test. I wanted to be perfect – after all, isn’t that what God expects of me? Isn’t that what Jesus said? “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat 5:48).

We know that God is perfect, and we also know that we are not. We are flawed, we are weak, we have tempers and attitudes and prejudices; we are selfish and self-centered. We are human, with all that our humanness entails. And we are sinful. Jesus knows all this. So why, then does He tell us “Be perfect.”? Why throw out a command He knows we will never achieve?

The word “perfect” means “perfect,” but it also means “complete, mature, finished.” James used the same word when he said “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jas 1:4). Modern translators have Jesus saying “perfect” and James saying “mature,” but the word in the Greek is exactly the same. This “perfection” is the life-long process of growing and becoming mature believers, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It is also the perfecting work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as He leads and guides us on to this maturity. Knowing that I am “a work in progress” frees me from the burden of perfectionism.

The root word for both “perfect” and “mature” means “end result, outcome, goal”. This is the work of Christ that achieves the end result of perfection. The writer of Hebrews said, “By one sacrifice He (Christ) has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:14). Christ has made us perfect now before the Father through His sacrifice on the cross, even while His Spirit works in us to make us holy. The final perfection comes when we get to heaven, the perfect place for perfect people!

Perfection is the aim, not as an unrealistic goal but as a present truth and a future promise. Beloved, always strive for perfection, keeping your eye on the ideal – on Jesus. Yes, you will stumble and you will fail. That’s why He sent you a Savior – a Savior who makes you perfect in every way.

I Have Sinned

James Moore wrote a book with an awesome title: “Yes Lord, I Have Sinned . . . But I Have Several Excellent Excuses.” I think it’s perfect for this generation. Truth is, it’s perfect for every generation. Trying to dodge our guilt is as old as mankind. Literally. Consider Adam and Eve’s words to God after they ate the forbidden fruit: “The serpent tempted me . . .” “The woman you put here with me . . .” (Gen. 3:12, 13). “Yes Lord, I ate the fruit, but . . .”

They say confession is good for the soul and if you’ve ever carried the weight of guilt around on your shoulders, you will know that it’s true.  1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” When we come before God with reasons why we’re not at fault, we’re really not confessing. Confession is acknowledging our sinful actions and agreeing that we have broken God’s law. It’s not trying to throw the blame off of ourselves or making up excuses for our behavior. Real confession is taking personal responsibility for our actions, no matter who is involved or what the circumstances were.

The word confess also means to “tell plainly.” That means no spinning stories of how or why it happened. No trying to justify it or explain it away. As if we could. After David’s affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband to try to cover it up, the profit Nathan called the king out for his actions (see 2 Sam 11-12). David made no excuses but said, “I have sinned against the Lord”.  When he admitted his sin Nathan said, “The Lord has taken away your sin” (12:13). Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of confession and repentance.

Whatever your sin, God is ready and willing to forgive you and cleanse you with the blood of His Son. You don’t need to make excuses or shift the blame. Just tell Him the plain and simple truth: “God, I have sinned.” And remember that God forgives sin, not excuses.  Beloved, just tell the Lord what you’ve done. And He’ll tell you that you’re forgiven.

Shaken and Stirred

When I read about the first church and those who fled Jerusalem under persecution for the gospel (Acts 8:1-3) and the martyrs who died with the name of Jesus on their lips, and I think about the Christians in the east who are still tortured and killed for their faith in Christ, I am ashamed. Oswald Chambers rightly said, “Beware of the danger of spiritual relaxation.” Beware of the Lazy-Boy faith of the Western church today. The true Christian life is not safe.

If every day as a Christian is an easy-breezy-peazy day, then we are in trouble. Following Jesus is not intended to be some blissful nirvana. It’s a climb, a race, a battle, a challenge.  It’s a step-by-step, day-by-day, prayer-by-prayer trek over desert sand and rocky mountains and treacherous trails through hostile territory.  That’s the life the Apostles experienced.  That’s the life the martyrs endured.  Their faith was tried and tested in the fires, and it came forth as gold.  The Christians with the strongest, deepest faith are the ones who defy opposition, persecution, threats, and even death for the name of Jesus.  The most dangerous state for a Christian is when all is right in their little world. 

After grapes are crushed to extract the juice it is placed in containers and allowed to ferment.  During fermentation, the dregs, or sediment, settle at the bottom of the container.  After forty days the wine is “shaken up” – poured into another container to allow the dregs to be removed.  If the dregs remain, the wine becomes too sweet and thick and it is spoiled. The Lord spoke of Israel’s enemy, “Moab has been at rest from youth, like wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another.  So she tastes as she did and her aroma is unchanged” (Jer. 48:11).  Moab had been largely at peace, and their turmoil-free life had made them spoiled.  The Lord said the same of Jerusalem, “I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs . . . (Zephaniah 1:12)”

Beloved, has your life – and your faith – been shaken lately?  Mine has. James says, “Count it all Joy . . .” (James 1:2).  God is sifting out the dregs, the dangerously sweet stuff that spoils you.  He is making your life an offering worthy of Christ.  Is it hard?  You bet.  Is it painful?  Without a doubt.  Is it worth it?  Just ask the saints who endured.  They’re the ones singing songs of Joy and praise around the throne.