Peace of Mind

“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

We need peace in this world.  We need peace between ourselves and God.  We need peace when we are afraid.  And we need peace when we are upset and our minds are a whirlwind of anxious and angry thoughts.  We need the peace that only comes from the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.  This is the peace we are focusing on in this week of the Advent season.

I am upset today.  My mind is racing with a hundred thoughts of frustration and anxiety, all because of some comments my seminary professor made.  I am having a hard time grabbing hold of the things that I need to focus on today.  I need peace of mind this morning.  I wonder if you do too.

God promised us the gift of peace, and if you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior, that peace is yours.  We’ve seen that He has made peace possible between us and God, and that He is our peace when we are afraid.  But what about now, when the real issue is simply my thoughts and attitude?  How do I find peace when my mind is anything but peaceful?  I have to choose peace.

The peace of Christ is there for me, but it is my choice to receive and apply it, or to leave it on the shelf and continue to stew.  Where will I allow my thoughts to roam – to the wasteland of anxiety or to the peace of Christ?  Two verses of Scripture offer me important keys.  From the Old Testament, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trust in you” (Is. 26:3). And from the writings of Paul, “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).  I can have the peace of God by focusing my mind on Him, trusting Him, remembering His faithfulness and His character; and by submitting my mind to the control of the Holy Spirit.  I cannot just grit my teeth and force myself to be at peace.  Peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), and it only comes when I am surrendered to the Spirit.  Ephesians 4:23 tells us to “be made new in the attitude of your minds.”  This will only happen when we fill our minds with the things of God; things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy” (Phil 4:8).  Isn’t it interesting that when we consider all these characteristics we are to think on, they all add up to one thing. Jesus.

Holy Father, Giver of true Peace, I chose today to turn my thoughts to the Baby in the manger, the flesh-and-blood gift of your perfect peace.  Let my mind be at peace, Jehovah Shalom as I trust in You.  Amen.

The Sponge Principle

Read Matthew 12: 33-37

A few of years ago I had an “SVT Episode,” a Supraventricular tachycardia – or extremely rapid heartbeat.  In the Emergency Department, blood was drawn for lab tests and I was hooked up to an EKG machine to monitor my heartbeat, which was soon brought back to normal rhythm.  It was not a life-threatening episode, but it was very frightening.  In follow up visits to a Cardiologist, he ordered an echocardiogram or ultrasound test to determine how my heart was functioning.  During the echo, the technician turned the monitor toward me so I could see my heart in action.  It was fascinating to watch my heart beating on the screen, and I was grateful that there was no damage to my heart and no major problem was found.  Modern medicine has developed many techniques and procedures to examine every part of our human body.  Doctors can assess our health with near pinpoint accuracy, and prescribe appropriate measures to restore or maintain our body’s health.

As wonderful as these medical marvels are, they cannot measure the health and wellbeing of our spiritual heart.  But there is a sure way we can know the true condition of our heart.  “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”  Matthew 12:34  Jesus says that what comes out of our mouth exposes the condition our heart.   Did you just wince like I did?  What do our words say about our hearts? I confess that my words of complaining and grumbling reveal a heart that is often ungrateful.  Gossip stems from a jealous heart.   Words of hatred or anger boil up from a heart full of bitterness.  Think what vile heart condition is revealed by the use of profanity.  But it doesn’t have to be so ugly.  Words of praise, thanksgiving, encouragement and kindness surely reveal hearts that are rich in love, joy, gratitude and peace – a heart steeped in the Lord.

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.”  Matthew 12:33

In verse 33, Jesus said that the condition of a tree’s fruit  reveals the condition of the tree.  Likewise the fruit of our lips reveals the health of our heart.  Good words come from a healthy heart, and bad words from an unhealthy heart.

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t just leave us hanging with unhealthy hearts. He offers the remedy.  In verse 35 he says “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”  The condition of our heart is caused by what we store there.    What we store up feeds our hearts and tumbles out of our mouths.  Jesus is telling us what computer programmers call – GIGO – “Garbage in, garbage out.”  What we choose to take in – what we look at, listen to, read and discuss – becomes, by definition, the “treasure” in our hearts.  What am I reading? What kind of music do you listen to? What television programs and movies am I watching? What websites are you visiting online?  Who do you spend time with, and what do you discuss? Now I know you are probably not dwelling on the “dark side.”  Your choices are not so bad.  But here is the question I ask myself continually – will this program, this magazine, this movie or online site, or this conversation strengthen my Christian walk?  Will it help me to grow deeper roots?  Will it help me become more like Christ?

It’s what I call “The Sponge Principle.”  Whatever a sponge absorbs, it will express when squeezed.  If I am exposing myself to sour attitudes, sexual content, anger or violence – when I am “squeezed” I will express ugliness.  But what if the things I choose to take in aren’t as bad as all that?  The principle still applies. If I am only sitting in tepid water, I will produce a tepid spirit.  But – if I am purposefully absorbing God’s Word, enjoying the fellowship and influence of godly people, and the goodness of praise – when life squeezes me, what comes forth is the evidence of God in my heart, things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  I want my life to always express the beauty and blessedness of God.

Jesus tells us how to measure and recognize the condition of our heart, and how to restore an unhealthy heart back to wholeness.  What does the fruit of your lips say about the status of your heart?  Do you need to make some changes in what you are soaking in?

Holy Father – I want my lips to reveal the heart of Christ in me.  Please help me to make godly choices that will grow a godly heart.   Amen

Alive in Christ – or on Life Support?

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.  Ephesians 2:4

Read: Ephesians 2:1-10

This passage is a great contrast in life and death, spiritually speaking. Paul says that before we come to Christ we are dead in our transgressions and sins.  He describes the spiritually dead person as one who follows the ways of the world and of Satan, gratifying the craving of our sinful nature, to the point that God declares us objects of wrath

I love how Paul emphasizes that this is who we were, how we used to live, at one time.  He is driving home the past because in v. 4, he delivers the contrast:  “But, because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”

The heart of the Gospel runs like the blood of Jesus through this verse:

God made us alive with Christ by grace.”

Paul cites two reasons in this verse to explain why God did such a marvelous thing; because of His great love for us, and because He is rich in mercy.  Paul identifies God’s love, grace and kindness as His gift to us. He expresses it beautifully in verse 7 – “the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

So, if indeed we have been made alive in Christ, what does that look like?

A person who is alive in Christ is dead to sin, meaning sin does not reign over those who are alive in Christ.  We will all struggle with temptations and sin, as long as we walk this earth, but for the one who is alive in Christ, sin is the exception, rather than the rule. (Romans 6:11-12; 8:9-10)  A person who is alive in Christ is controlled by the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit).

When we are controlled by the Spirit of Christ, we see another very important sign of spiritual life – fruit. A person who is alive in Christ lives a fruitful life.  A plant that is alive will produce “fruit” of some type – grapes, beans, flowers, peaches – because that is exactly what it was created for.  The person who is alive in Christ also produces fruit –  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) – characteristics which marked our Savior when He was here on earth.  Fruit doesn’t produce itself, but it is the work of the plant that creates the fruit. In John 15:5, Jesus said that in order to be fruitful, we must “remain in Him.”  To remain in Christ is to consciously and obediently accept the authority of His Word, and to stay in constant contact with Him through prayer.

A person who is alive in Christ will be actively serving and working for the Kingdom of God. Paul declared in  Ephesians 2:10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” How do we discover those “good works”? They are often found in the gifts of the Spirit: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, showing mercy, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discernment, and speaking in and interpreting tongues to name a few. Remember there are many other gifts God uses to bless the church: music, cooking, artistic and creative talents, organization, even the gift of patience with little children.

Finally, a person who is alive in Christ will be filled with love, which is the hallmark of those who belong to the Lord.

The New Testament writers declared love to be supreme in the life of a Christian. Paul said love is “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) and said of the foundations of the Kingdom of God-“faith, hope and love, the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Peter declares: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)  And John the Revelator gave a beautiful epistle on love in 1 John where he says: “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light” (2:10); “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (3:18); “Let us love one another, for love comes from God.” (4:7) and “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (4:21)

And of all Jesus’ words recorded in the four gospels, I can only find one time that He prefaced His words as a direct command. John 15:24 – “This is my command” – “Love one another as I have loved you.” He said our love for one another would be the distinguishing mark that declares to the world “we belong to Jesus”. John 15:25 – “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Can we be saved and still not be “alive in Christ”?

Revelation 3:1-2 says I know your deeds, you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.

We can claim the Name of Jesus Christ, come to church every Sunday, give money, sing in the choir, attend Bible Studies, even teach Sunday School – and proclaim ourselves alive in Christ,

But unless there is growth and maturity,

unless there is fruit production,

unless there is holy love

– we are Christians on life support.