Putting God’s peace on the shelf

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Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

John 14:27  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. (NIV)

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (NIV)

What strikes me from the three promises above is that God’s providential peace and God’s providential trouble form the ‘normal’ for the Child of God. (Those outside of God’s family face the suffering without the grace of His peace)

The supernatural spiritual peace we have received is a GIFT.  Yet when I think of all the gifts I have been given by friends and family, I shudder at how I have disposed of them.

Some intrigued me for a while and I used them, a lot.  But then I either put them aside and forgot about them or threw them away. Some I didn’t know what to do with, like the rubber tube about an inch or so in diameter open on both ends.  When I finally took it to my daughter-in-law to ask her ‘What in the heck is this for?’, I laughed to find out it was a garlic skin remover.  Others I regifted, immediately.  A few I even returned for the cash!

Similarly, I have treated God’s gift of peace, without the awe and gratitude it deserves.  Thankfully, a prayer I read this morning reminded me NOT to fear present or future suffering but to cling to the peace that is part of my inheritance from God.

So…. YES, trials ARE ordained for us, for our sanctification.  But God has given us His peace, which surrounds us on all sides.  This beyond-words peace (“….God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand – Phil 4:7 NLT) IS larger than our troubles and suffering.  The gift has been given.  Let us not put this beautiful provision out of sight, on the shelf.

But instead may we fix our gaze, that is, the eyes of our heart, on our costly birthright purchased for us by Jesus at the Cross.

 

How to understand suffering – some of the ways

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A friend applies for job after job, only to make it to the final interview and be rejected. Not just once, but discouragingly, a number of times.

Another gal miscarries, yet again. The hope of carrying a baby to term erodes with each pregnancy.

Then there is an older sister in the faith who has been through so many cancer treatments, from chemo to radiation to surgery to enduring experimental drugs in clinical trials.  Nothing seems to work.

One more example, a brother who struggles wholeheartedly to save his marriage through prayer, fasting and pursuing counseling.  Alone.  Nonetheless, his wife wants no part in an attempt to reconcile and files for divorce.

These are 4 standout examples of suffering that quickly came to mind.  We all can enumerate such cases and more.

How about the more mundane types of painful struggle like trying to give up drinking, one more time? Or losing that weight, over and over?  Or attempting to engage in conversation your silent, sullen teen?

Do you ever feel like you keep praying, even quoting scripture BACK to God yet nothing changes?

I have significant unanswered prayers in my own life and have…. and am walking through similar suffering in the lives of friends and family in the faith.

Now at age 60, I’m recognizing some of the reasons that God seems sovereignly to ordain such circumstances.  I’ll mention a few, but as John Piper has taught me over the years of listening to his sermons, (and I’ll paraphrase): ‘God is doing 1000 things at one time in any event and we might only be able to spot two or three.’

(If you don’t yet know what to do with evidence in the Bible that God CAUSES suffering, here is one verse to illustrate that fact: Psalm 88:8 ‘You have removed my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an object of loathing to them; I am shut up and cannot go out’

Here are the reasons that I’ve seen in the past year or so that God might be saying ‘No’ to the sincere and fervent prayers of a righteous Christian:

  • What you are praying for is not ‘good’ per God.  For if something IS good, then He doesn’t withhold it:  Ps 84:11  ‘no good thing does he withhold from those whose way is upright’
  • The way you are choosing to go and asking for his permission does not showcase God’s righteousness.  Ps 23: 3 ‘He leads me in paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake.’
  • Per Anne Graham Lotz, our Father sometimes repeatedly shuts doors to a work until he has refined our purpose FOR the project.
  • Since God has created us to showcase his value as explained in Isaiah 43:6-7  ‘Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made’ then in some cases God blocks ways and projects that work counter to his purposes.

The other morning I was listening to an archived John Piper Sermon about joy.  And what I realized is this:

IF God’s purpose in creating us is to showcase how much we treasure HIM above anything he has created, then it is possible he is ordaining our circumstances in the optimal manner to fulfill this purpose.

Recall that God fashions, calls and redeems a particular group of people for his glory, that is for us to showcase just how much we esteem HIM above anything else in the universe.  If this is so, then how does the world figure out that we consider God OUR MOST valuable possession?

Yes, by taking away other sources of contentment and pleasure. For if we have ‘earthly success’ but actually treasure God more than that success, what would be the evidence to the non-believer that the Triune God is more precious to us than gold or good health or a happy family or fame?

How will my non-believing neighbor see that knowing God makes me supremely happy?

I think you can figure out where I’m going with this.  Perhaps the most striking example of a Christian being content with Christ is when something normal and important is removed.  Or everything is stripped away:

  • think of Paul beaten and confined in prison
  • or Stephen stoned to death
  • or heroes of the faith burned at the stake for their beliefs
  • or a Columbine High School teen standing up and identifying herself as a follower of Jesus
  • or the Amish families who ministered to the widow and children of the murderer of their girls

That kind of faith doesn’t make sense to the world, but it sure does make God look good.

Is this why you are suffering? why God seems to be keeping doors shut or saying no?

I don’t presume to say.  I will say, though, that the longer I live, pray with friends and read my Bible I see more redemptive reasons for suffering for Christ’s sake.

If the above examples leave you depressed, here are two other reasons that will lift your spirits:

  • Joseph was sold into slavery, slandered and forgotten for years in Egypt before God’s good plan was revealed – Genesis 50:20  ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’
  • Job’s suffering – at the time, he likely did not know about or understand God’s purpose in giving Satan almost free reign to harm him. But over the centuries thousands of Jews and Christians have found help and strength to endure their own painful trials and losses.

Let’s allow God the final word:

1 Peter 4:19 ‘So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.’

 

Will you be disappointed to know what God’s will is for your life?

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I’m ashamed to admit that in my early years as a Christian I used to brag about my UN-answered very ‘selfless-sounding’ prayer when Mike and I were in a career bind.  We were living in England and he was ‘stuck’ in a commission-only sales job and hated what the stress was doing to his body.  Nurtured by a small group from our church, we began to learn about God from the Bible.  Since we were in a bind about this job crisis, we crafted a spiritual request:

  • Father, just show us your will and we will do it!

No matter how much we pleaded with God, we didn’t receive any nudges or clues from God about what to do job-wise.  In the end, we stumbled our way through several dead ends and moved back to the States.  Even after we were finally settled into a new career path for Mike, I often shared the story of this ‘failed’ prayer request.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned what God’s will for my life was.   It’s the same as for your life, if you are a Christian. And it’s bigger than individual problems or unpleasant life circumstances.

It’s called RADICAL HOLINESS. 

radical

Before you flinch at either word, BREATHE!  We’ll look at each word and find some good news.

Let’s take up first the term, ‘holy’. It should come as no surprise that God wants us to be holy.  He started with Abraham and grew a separated people, the Hebrews, to BE holy. The OT is the story of how they, like us, kept failing at their calling.  Take a look at a few verses:

  • Be holy, as I am holy  (found in the OT, for example in Lev 20:26 as well as in the NT, for example in 1 Peter 1:16)
  • For it is God’s will that you should be holy (or sanctified) 1 Thess 4:3   holiness or sanctification is Hagiosmos in Greek  (we get the word hagiography, referring to stories about the saints, aka believers)

What about the first concept of ‘radical’?  Is that crazy-wild holiness like John the Baptist, complete with eating flying insects and getting stung gathering honey?

john the baptist

Not specifically. I don’t doubt that this forerunner committed his life to growing into God’s holiness.  But the TRUE meaning of radical is ROOT.  We are to be like God down to our very roots, not just LOOK holy to wow each other.

It’s the difference between eye-impressing pietistic outward behaviors and growing in godliness from the surface all the way to your core.

I have to admit that on the surface that might sound boring.  If so, then the fault lies in me and how I think about holiness. There’s also the very real problem that God is committed to transforming me closer to the image of Jesus, whether I find his goal for me exciting or not!  And he does this by…….

organizing one training exercise…… after another trial….. after some practice after..  every single day! (repeat until we graduate, aka go to be with him!)

I was reading a bit last night in John Piper’s book, Future Grace.  His premise is that all of God’s promises in the Bible are units of grace that are future to us. AND they are as sure as God himself is the following:

  • who he says he is (as written in His book, the Bible),
  • and who he has demonstrated himself to be (evidence from the past – both in others’ lives and ours).

Piper connects actually relying and believing God’s promises with growth in holiness.  Here’s his quote,

  • I pledge myself to a holy dissatisfaction until my thoughts and my words and my deeds express the radical holiness that comes from the wonderful, joyful freedom of living by faith in guaranteed future grace. (p. 108 of Chapter 7, original edition)

Piper takes as a key teaching about the assurance of God’s promises to us and for us these verses in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as recorded in 2 Cor 1:20-22 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

So how I summarized Piper’s thesis was this:

  • God calls/commands me to be holy.
  • I grow more holy as I soak in and move out, trusting the invisible but very real promised provision as detailed in his scripture promises.
  • When I pray to God I ask him to help me trust what he says. I need his help to stake my every-day moments on his word. So in my prayer I say Amen, aka Yes!, to God’s promises which are grounded in Christ and shored up by the permanent deposit of the Holy Spirit in me.

So, do you see?  Becoming more and more holy is actually a joy-producing adventure.  God doesn’t want us to worry and carry the burden of life on our shoulders.  But we won’t believe him that his way is the better and happier way.  So he orchestrates these tests, EVERY day, forcing us to exercise our spiritual muscles.

For me these tests seem to center around my perception of having too many tasks today and too little time AND have some time left over for me to relax by reading.

I’ve been meditating on Piper’s teachings the past few days.  This morning I woke up feeling anxious about ‘all I needed to get done’ today after church.  Then I remembered that I don’t HAVE to worry.  And in fact maybe, just maybe, God has piled all ‘all this stuff’ deliberately to crunch me and force me to take the practical exam of trusting his promised future grace. For that is how he is making me holy, right down to my core.

Question:  What’s your holiness training plan like?

‘The Big Fall’ into sin – again!

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I noticed the contradiction for a couple of days and named it. Preached it, even.
Then I fell for it.  And sinned big.  (Like in those days before I had heard about God’s biblical plan for wives.)
But back to truth.  Here’s the insight:
“It makes NO sense to believe in the sovereignty of God over every molecule AND worry about how I want my day to go.”  That is irrational and stupid.
But it’s been that kind of week.  I’m going out of town on Monday and the days were filling up.  I WANTED to do X, Y and Z and I saw only limited windows of time open for me to take care of those ‘important’ things on my list.  And I panicked.  Even though I know better.  Even though God patiently sets up this lesson time and time again so I can trust Him.
This past Wednesday, the day of THE BIG FALL, I even comforted myself remembering that God has ALWAYS provided in the past.  Without fail.
Not enough time
And yet…the banner over me was NOT ENOUGH TIME, so I grimmed up and grew hard.  Our conversation through dinner prep and on into the meal took on a combative edge.
That was when I found myself dishing back to him in like manner, feeling fully justified.  Just like during all those selfish years, when I would rationalize – “If he’s allowed to play the dramatic, then I should as well!”  But you know how THAT always ends.
Sin is a shortcut to what SEEMS like a good idea in the moment.  But it never satisfies.  Emotion short-circuits clear thinking. Praying to God didn’t occur to me in the midst of feeling sorry for myself.
So, how did it all end?  My husband chose the ‘mature’ card of love and softness toward me.  Having put as many chores as I could between my eventually wanting to absorb the cool mountain air of an evening in the Smokies I sat down next to him in silence.  He let no more than a minute go by before turning to me. His question drew me out, back to the truth of how much we love each other.  The humble features and pleading eyes showed me how much his heart has grown Christ-like since our last ‘raise your own barricades’ skirmish.
That glimpse and the remedial lesson in trusting God’s provision were worth the pain!
1 Corinthians 13: 7 (Love ….. )  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Freedom that comes with honest self-appraisal

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I heard the concept of hope described as the golden feeling

of having something to look forward to.

If you’re like me, you enjoy having something new in which to hope, to anticipate, to savor, or to find relief from pain or the mundane.  Something like an event, a trip, stuff or a transition.

We can also place our hope in people – – to meet our needs.  The kicker is when they don’t live up to our expectations, when they disappoint.

Among many intermittent friendships with other Christian women, I’ve enjoyed one long and sustained relationship. For over ten years, this gal and I met weekly for coffee and fellowship at Starbucks, until I moved away this past June.

Our weekly hour of spiritual and life catch-up covered both years when we read & discussed books together, to seasons of just plain keeping up with each other’s interests and needs.  Twice I betrayed her trust by divulging a confidence.  And our friendship endured and strengthened.

This was a new experience for me, to have a strong but elastic friendship that neither of us dismissed or dropped at the first encounter with unmet expectations.  It would have been easier to drift, to claim a season of ‘busyness’.  But we would have missed the blessings.

I am, by my fallen genetic make-up a prideful person.  I tend to think I’m pretty good.  Of course, once I became a Christian at age 23, God slowly but steadily took my blinders off so I could see more and more of the sin that had been there all along.

By the time I sinned against my friend the second time, I was ‘mature’ enough to confess to her something that went like this:

  • I could promise that I will never again break a confidence, but I know me.
  • And I don’t trust myself.  
  • I will probably, no..not probably, I will MOST assuredly sin against you again.
  • I don’t want to, but I also don’t want to delude either you or me. 

I hadn’t planned on announcing that fact; I think the Holy Spirit just opened my eyes to that truth at the moment.

You know, it is FREEING to acknowledge that my bent is STILL to sin.  What makes me different from the non-Christian, is that Jesus already paid for all my future sins.  And I am well loved by God.  His grace doesn’t give me license to sin, but it does remove my need to cover up my sins.

I revisited this lesson yesterday on the Appalachian Trail.  Mike and I had planned another Saturday hike. Normally these are physically and emotionally restorative.  This one turned out to be painfully and spiritually revelatory.

Three times over the course of the 5 hours (should have been only 4 – our normal limit at our age 56), we got side-tracked (aka – lost). Twice it was my fault –  due to my strong will, selfish desire to reach a spot on  the trail and my distrust of Mike’s Ranger training.

He sinned too and during the drive home, we processed.  After reconciling, I remarked:

Mike, as much as I am truly sorry for hurting you today by not trusting you and not thinking about how your ankle must have been hurting, I want you to know how thankful I am that we have a covenant marriage that is both strong and elastic enough to survive our deliberate sins against each other.  Most assuredly I will hurt you again and you will wound me.  We’re sinners. May we continue to offer one another grace and ready forgiveness.

Now that is liberating. Mike’s hope is NOT in a perfect partner and neither is mine.  That releases us  to overlook much and chalk it up to God’s sanctification process.

Mike’s face clearly illustrates God’s gritty, sandpapery sanctification process in the midst of our hike yesterday.

But what I see in it …..is the face of my beloved husband, a fellow sinner, committed to me and to God.  May God give us BOTH the strength and the desire to love well with plenty of grace when we don’t feel like it.

Pers - Mike at AT sign

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