and the peace of God…

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. —Philippians  4:7

Peace. We seek it. Well, I seek it. Not sure about the rest of the world.

Sometimes I seek peace at all costs. Too often I settle for this and it costs me more but like those who pay no money down, the costs are deep in the detail and are paid back with interest. I compromise on things I value so I will have peace, which is not peace. It is only the absence of conflict, yet the conflict remains.

On the surface, it seems I am trying to care for those around me but truth be known, I just want them to like me, not have an issue with me, or not think less of me.

This is no peace. It is not even the absence of conflict. Externally, I have made peace (resolved the conflict) but internally the battle rages on. At times I have seceded when I am right. Other times my struggle comes not in knowing right from wrong but good from best. But most times, I am just stubborn and unwilling to admit my own faults (Wouldn’t want someone to think poorly of me!).

And the peace of God…that conjunction points us back to all Paul has written.

Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident. Don’t be anxious. Through prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God.

AND…The peace of God does not come through my seeking peace, peace at all costs, my bartering or settling. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). World bartered peace does not last, nor is it peace. Remember: World War I was the war to end all wars. How did that work out?

Rejoice, even when people disagree with you. They may be right. They are talking to you. Do you want them to stop speaking into your life? Granted, there are those we ought not listen too, but who do we allow to speak into our life? Shut them up often enough and long enough, and the very people God may be using to direct your path may become silent and you will follow the path you are on to a very dark place.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. Listen without prejudice. Hear what they are saying. Gentleness communicates “I am listening to you. I value your opinion.” Even if they are wrong (not saying they are) you may discover other nuggets of wisdom and truth through their words.

Don’t be anxious. I have trouble being gentle when I am anxious. Anxiety raises my blood pressure and ignites the fight or flight reflex.

With thanksgiving, which seems opposite of anxiousness, pray and petition God.

AND the peace of God. I long for this. Peace, a quiet confidence of God’s provision and protection in the midst of the storm, brings confidence and courage to face life’s storms, temptations and troubles. Peace like this comes in the midst of conflict. Paul elsewhere reminds us that in all things God is at work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

And the peace of God…So God is at work in this mess for my good.

Which transcends all understanding…it won’t make sense according to conventional wisdom.

Will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…God’s promise protects me.

So rejoice. Be gentle. Don’t be anxious. With thanksgiving, pray and petition God.

Peace. God’s peace.

O, that I would be found resting in God’s peace! Faithful.

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Anything. Everything. Thanksgiving.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. —Philippians  4:6

Anything. Everything. Thanksgiving. These three words boil it down.

Do not worry about anything. Pray, petition God, about everything. Accomplish all this with in the midst of thanksgiving.

Paul has encouraged us earlier to rejoice. Always rejoice. Always giving thanks.

I have been set free. No payment required. My debt has been paid. My soul redeemed. I have been forgiven much so my heart should be filled with thanksgiving.

But I am fearful. I do worry. I do fret.

Worry involves dwelling on my fears.

The beloved disciple reminds us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

If I am loved perfectly by God, then why do I fear?

The activity of worry engages many of the same muscles Paul encourages us to use in this verse. When I worry, I think about the challenge, threat or situation. I toss it over in my mind again and again.

Paul directs me to use those same muscles and pray. Talk to God about those worries. Petition God. Take the challenge, threat or situation to this all loving, all-powerful God.

Many times worry involves many things I have little control over or have no power to change. Prayer petitions God to act on our behalf. Prayer appropriates the power of God in my life. Not in the sense that God is on my side or I somehow gain authority over God’s power, but rather, prayer aligns my heart with the heart of God as I surrender to God’s purpose and will.

Prayer and petition. Anything. Everything. Thanksgiving.

Pursuing faithfulness by pursuing this loving, redeeming God.

the Lord is near…

Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. The Lord is near. —Philippians  4:5

Everyone means every person: those who deserve it and those who do not.

All means every act. Every act to every person reveal gentleness—really, Paul?

Every act? Every person?

The Greek word, epiakas, can be translated gentleness, moderation, patience and kind, painting the picture of one who responds appropriately in every situation.

Being considerate demands we consider or think before we act. Those who are considerate consider or think before just doing what comes natural.

Our problem: we live in the age of rights. We demand freedom to do as we desire. What began in the 60’s as a throwing off the weight of the establishment has become the new tradition. My personal freedom trumps everything.

We have actually reconfigured an existing system (rebellion-saying no to God) into one that claims personal freedom and rights are all powerful. They have become our default system.

My natural response considers not your needs or feelings.

How do we put off this natural inclination?

Paul reminds us, “The Lord is near.”

Paul clearly thought in terms of the any-second-looking-at-my-watch Jesus’ return. I know they didn’t have watches but clearly if Paul had a watch he was expecting the return of Christ soon. So the Lord is near, as in will be here shortly.

However, the near-ness of the Lord also speaks of proximity. God with us. The indwelling Holy Spirit reminds and empowers us to respond appropriately in every situation. Paul’s reminder calls us to something greater within us.

The faithful steward is found busy with His Master’s agenda. Jesus responded appropriately in every situation. To this we are called, to follow in His steps…

rejoice!

Rejoice in the Lord always…I will say it again: Rejoice! —Philippians  4:4

What is your default system? What comes naturally?

Paul raises the challenge here, calling every Christ-follower to rejoice! Only a person filled with hope expresses joy in every circumstance.

Worry. Anxiety. Frustration. All these rob us of hope, depleting our energy and sapping our internal reserves.

The psalmist writes, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?” (Psalm 121:1). Despite desperate situations, when all around no reason for hope exists, still hope, hope in the Lord sustains this worshipper on his journey of ascent. Our hope comes from God not our situation or circumstance.

If I can’t rejoice, then my focus must be elsewhere.

We don’t rejoice because of the hardship, challenge or circumstance. We rejoice IN the Lord. Our God rules sovereignly, overruling any other power.

When his disciples were rejoicing over a recent harvest (current circumstance), Jesus redirected their rejoicing—Rejoice that your names are written in heaven! (Luke 10:20). Our rejoicing springs out of our salvation in Christ. His saving act on our part forms the headwaters of an everlasting well of hope bringing life…eternal life!

When I focus on the present trouble, hardship or uncertainty, I sink into the overwhelming flood. But with my eyes fixed, focused on Christ, I am reminded of my salvation, my standing. I remember God’s approval and love!

I will say it again: Rejoice!

My life grounded in Christ will always cry, “Rejoice!”

Joy pours forth from a life grounded in God’s eternal reality.

wisdom, power and riches…

wisdompowerandrichesGod’s Message:

“Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom.    Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits.  Don’t let the rich brag of their riches. 

If you brag, brag of this and this only: That you understand and know me.  I’m God, and I act in loyal love.  I do what’s right and set things right and fair, and delight in those who do the same things.  These are my trademarks.” –Jeremiah 9:23-24 (Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message)

In the old King James, we would hear, “Thus saith the Lord…” signifying God’s voice spoken which ought perk our ears. A clearing of the throat perhaps as he speaks. A brief pause to give us a moment to quiet our souls or to stop our own tongue so we might hear clearly a word for us.

Wisdom, power and riches: Trace these back to their origins and find God.No person possesses these without God’s permission. They come from God.

Wisdom, power and riches compare to loyal love, justice and righteousness.

He who has wisdom without loyal love, listen!

Those with power without a clear sense of justice, take heed!

The ones with great riches yet lack righteousness, proceed with caution!

God delights in those who reflect his glory, who imitate his activity. God speaks to all yet we point to others. God confronts me with the wisdom, power and riches I do possess.

God possesses all wisdom, power and riches, so my holdings I hold as steward.

In applying wisdom given you did you do so in the context of faithful love?

Love defined by God’s actions for God is love. Mercy freely given, without reservation, condition or expectation of repayment. Faithful as in continuing actions of love even though rebuffed and refused. Loving as Christ loves and who commands those who follow him to love your neighbor as yourself.

I am quick to forgive myself, overlook my faults and failures. Am I so quick with others? Loving them in the same way I love myself calls me to same quickness. Again imitation being the greatest compliment, imitating Christ’s action toward me, who quickly forgives.

In exercising power given you did you do so justly?

A clear sense of justice provides a framework power. Outside these boundaries power corrupts and blind those who possess it. They forget power’s source and so forget they have a master as well.

In using riches given you did you accomplish in the context of righteousness?

Webster’s defines righteousness as acting in accord with divine or moral law: free from guilt or sin. While we quickly agree all have sinned, still we can even within our limitations act in such ways.

Even the slang meaning “genuine or excellent” rings true.  Riches without right actions are wasted.

Wisdom, power and riches. Loyal love, justice and righteousness. May we seek to possess the later in greater and greater abundance so that we may steward the former well.

listening ears

EarrrA large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town and Jesus speaks to the crowd, “A farmer went out to sow his seed…

This seed is precious filled with potential. One seed nurtured and encouraged can bring an investment return unrivaled on Wall Street. One seed landing on warm, moist and fertile soil will quickly germinate, sprout and grow with the promise of much fruit.

Weeds grow with little or no effort. Growing seeds to reap a harvest demands a bit more effort, so this parable startles us. The farmer indiscriminately casts the seed. On the hard, pounded path, among the rocks with little soil and in the weeds along the way. Does the farmer really expect a harvest from these areas?

Parables point to the familiar to explain a greater truth.

Crowds get caught up in the wasteful actions of the farmer and miss the meaning of the parable.

Jesus concludes this parable with a challenge, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Everyone has ears. Yet, we do not hear.

My friends in Congo always tell me, “You Americans have watches but you never have time!”

I can have ears and still not hear. I get tripped on the details of the story and miss the greater meaning.

Jesus was speaking to two distinct audiences: the crowd and his disciples. In Mark’ gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, “Don’t you get it? How will you understand any parable?”  Luke tells the story with no such admonition. I’m not saying Mark got it wrong. Luke was speaking to a different audience and with a distinct purpose. Luke focused on the difference of the crowd and the disciple.

Crowds provide cover, protection and allow for lack of personal commitment. You can hide in the crowd, listen to the curious stories of this one who confronts the power-welding self-righteous, and avoid any personal affront. Jesus called the disciples one by one. Disciples were connecting to the person of God in their midst.

To hear one must come out of the crowd. To understand one must be in relationship with Jesus.

I have ears but do I hear?

The soil outside my house bears no responsibility for its condition but this is not true for the soil of this parable. “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” One hearing responds with action.

Listen. Retain. Remember. Put it to use. Persevere. Disciples do such things.

Faithful stewards listen, obey, pursue and persevere.

 

 

prolegomena

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malicpraying+handse. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. ­ Romans 1:28-32

I am not sure what Paul was seeing in his day, but clearly this perspective is seen today.

Earlier in this letter to the Romans, Paul reasons creation reveals its creator and God’s invisible qualities can be seen and known(v20). Then he points out they rejected this knowledge and assumed their own. For this reason,  God gave them over to the sinful desires of their heart (v24), to their shameful lusts (v26), and to a depraved mind (v28).

When I was in seminary, I learned about prolegomena.

Now that’s fun word. Say it with me: Pro-le-gom-e-na!

Prolegomena discusses what one must know before beginning the real discussion. Prolegomena is the knowledge base you begin with before you launch into a greater understanding. We see this readily in math where we progress from simple to complex. Paul is saying that creation reveals the prolegomena concerning any conversation about God.

When I read this passage, I begin nodding my head in agreement as Paul lists off the depth of their actions: wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. Almost responding in dialogue with Paul, “Why yes, they do. They are filled with envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice…”

His words strike a little close to home, but still I am agreeing with him. Look at all the evil they accomplish!

But then he says, gossips and later he adds parental disobedience. He includes sins of pride and arrogance. While I might be able to defend my actions concerning the earlier lists, my depravity is revealed as Paul widens the scope and breadth of sin.

They have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy…then the arrow strikes its target. My heart. And I pray,

God, where am I lacking in understanding? Show me what I do not see, reveal your heart to me and the wickedness of my own heart, so that I might bring it out into your marvelous light and receive your forgiveness and cleansing.

God, show me my unfaithfulness. You are a great King, Lord of the Universe, Creator of everything and I am only a humble, undeserving subject. Show me my sin so that I might confess and receive your forgiveness.

God, reveal your love through me today. Let my heart be open to your impulse, direction and guidance.

God, you are mercy. Let your mercy be evident in the actions or words I speak today. I am needy but you fill every need. Let me trust you more and more. Amen.