Department of Peace or Prince of Peace?

Congressional legislators are preparing to introduce a bill to create a Department of Peace. That’s a hoot. The government that saved us from our energy problems with the Department of Energy will now create peace through bureaucracy. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of peace. Everybody is in favor of peace.  What is peace anyway? Where can we find it? What does it actually mean? Is it just the absence of war, or is it a social utopia where everyone just gets along? Is it an economic state where one’s needs and cares are provided for, or perhaps a psychological state, where anxiety has been eliminated? Perhaps it’s all these things, and none of them. 

I suggest that in this world of men there can be no peace. The one peace we can ever count on, the most important peace we’ll ever find, is a peace made possible through the grace of God. Our only real peace comes from one source: the Prince of Peace. Let me explain.

 Jesus declared:  

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

 In his walk, Jesus affirmed that we who believe in him already have his peace within us.  But at the same time he asserted that this peace is not the same peace that the world knows. It is not a peace on the political plane. It is not peace among men. It is not peace of mind, or freedom from the cares of this life. The peace we need  is not with the world, but a peace with God. It is not a temporal peace, but an eternal peace. It is peace in Jesus for all eternity. It is the peace that comes from the promise of eternal life to be fully realized in the kingdom of heaven when we “shall see him as he is”(1 John 3:2).

 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In fact, even with the peace of Jesus in us, the world still brings trials and troubles (tsuris, for all you fellow Brooklyn-born Yiddish lovers). What then is the meaning and the source of this peace that Jesus gives to his followers? Let’s consider the state in which we live before Jesus gives us his peace. The human condition, absent his peace, reveals what peace means and whence it comes.

 The bad news is that if we die without Jesus, we do not have, and, in fact, cannot have, peace. What’s worse, instead of eternal peace, those without Christ will experience only pain and anguish and suffering. In this life we may consider ourselves at peace because we are temporarily free of the worries of the world like jobs, money, relationships, health, but real peace? Most folks think they are on good terms with God because they do their “more than fair” share of good works. But the self-satisfaction and complacency we may feel in the world does not equate to any peace with God. Peace with God is impossible without Jesus. Why? The Bible is clear.  We lose our chance for the peace that is available only through the gift of Jesus when we  war against God.  The truth is that every one of us has declared war on God. We are rebels, and rebels make war on authority. What greater authority is there than our Creator? We are rebels whenever we reject God, ignore his commandments, or blaspheme his name. We are rebels whenever we sin. Even worse, we are rebels not just through our personal sins, but by our very nature–our sin nature that is endemic in all men. We declare war on God every day of our lives, and that war began when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s law in the garden of Eden. Before we rebelled, there was peace, and God walked among us.

 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. (Genesis 3:8)

 Through Adam and Eve sin entered the world and ever since there has been no peace with God, only alienation, enmity, and condemnation.

 Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.(Isaiah 59:2)

We are at war with God. Because man’s very nature is corrupt, we, like Adam and Eve, seek to hide from God, or make God disappear. 

The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)

 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
   They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds. (Psalm 14:1)

 We boldly exhibit our rebellious behavior by dismissing God as a fiction, reject his authority, reshape his message in the Bible, or even by creating our own gods of narcissism, sex, entertainment, sports, and nature. We cannot tolerate a God who demands that we glorify him in all we do. We seek instead to be gods ourselves in order that we justify our headlong obsession with pursuing and fulfilling our selfish desires. In an atmosphere in which we are isolated from our creator, cut off from he who sustains the universe and controls every aspect of our lives, how can we find peace? It is impossible. Instead of seeking peace outside ourselves, in Christ, we protect our self-righteousness, shelter our thoughts, actions and attitudes from scrutiny, and declare war. And the more we insist on creating our own illusory peace, on being our own masters, the more we must eliminate, attack and destroy God, our real master.

 Simply put, we do not want God around. We want to be free–free to pursue our own self-gratification.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
   to see if there are any who understand,
   who seek after God.

 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
   there is none who does good,
   not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

At the core of the Bible is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is proclaimed and foreshadowed in the law of Moses, spoken of by the prophets, recounted as history in the gospels, and interpreted and preached in the rest of the New Testament epistles and books. It is the Gospel that brings peace to all who believe. That’s good news for sure. But what was the bad news? After all, good news in the absence of bad news is just news.  It’s like a visit to the doctor. You walk into your doctor’s office, sit across the desk, and listen as he makes a bold announcement. “I have really exciting news!” He then tells you that he has just received a new experimental and recently approved drug that 100% cures a certain rare and debilitating disease. You listen and wonder: “How nice, but why should I care about this obscure piece of medical news?” Now, if the doctor had first told you the bad news, that in fact your test results are in and YOU have this rare and debilitating disease, then the announcement of the new miracle drug is good news, maybe even the best news you ever received from a man!  

If the Gospel is the Good News that brings peace to all who believe and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord, what is the bad news?

First and foremost, without accepting the peace that Christ gives us through his death and resurrection, we are for all eternity at war with God. That war will have a victor and a day of reckoning–our personal armistice day. On that day when we stand before the great white throne, we will be judged. At that moment, poised on the edge of eternity, it will be too late to come to terms with God, too late to surrender, too late to settle out of court. If we accepted Jesus and surrendered to him while in the world, we are free from condemnation. Jesus made our peace, settled our case, nailed our debt to the cross with himself. But those who stand alone, separated from God, reliant only on themselves, without faith,  stand condemned.  The only step remaining for them is the sentencing. As a just and good good judge must punish the guilty, unbelievers, those in rebellion against the King of kings and Lord of lords, will be cast into the lake of fire for all eternity.

 The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. (Psalm 9:17)

 Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.(Revelation 20:13-15)

 How then do we receive this peace that Jesus gives? It is not something we earn, not something we can achieve on our own, not even something to which we contribute anything . It is a gift, a free gift of the grace of God. It is true peace, an end to the war that is central to our life–our rebellion against God. Jesus made our peace once for all time when he took on flesh as Immanuel (God With Us), and chose to intercede for us before God the Father. He intervened in history as a man and paid our penalty (the death penalty) for our rebellion, for our sin, upon the cross. He took our punishment so we would not have to. He gave his life as a peace offering–a peace between us and God.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.(1 John 4:10)

 As Israel covered its sin year after year with the blood sacrifice of animals, so Jesus once and for all eternity became the perfect blood sacrifice to wash us of our sins.

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12)

He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he now sits on the throne of his Father as both man and God as our intercessor before the Father. Through Jesus we can make our peace with God. Jesus is our God and our peace. In order to obtain it, we have only one choice– we must surrender. And Jesus has dictated the terms of that surrender– and they are non-negotiable. We must surrender our lives, give up our commitment to sin, and live for him and him alone. We must surrender our worldly attachments, our relationships, our idols, our pursuit of self, our prideful control of our own lives. Our peace has been won through the cross and Jesus offers it to us by faith and repentance. When we confess that Jesus is Lord, he must become our Lord and master. Our peace with God through Jesus comes at a high cost. It costs us everything!

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.(John 12:25)

Without a surrender to Jesus, there can be no peace in our lives. The world will always provide troubles, tribulations and trials, but they are only our burdens in this world. The peace that Jesus gives us is eternal. Pray and make your peace with God today. Surrender to Jesus, the Lord of lords and King of kings. Let us open our ears, allow the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts, that we may be saved. The only true peace is with God–the Prince of Peace.

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.(Psalm 85:8)

Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 9:05 am  Comments (2)  

Food and Loathing: Man’s Hunger, God’s Provision

 One who is full loathes honey,
   but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet. (Proverbs 37:7)

 Man is always hungry, in need of nourishment both physical and spiritual, and constantly in search of food. How he decides what he needs, how he seeks it, how he appreciates it, how it nourishes him, and what it prepares him for, reflects his relationship with the Provider of all things, the Lord God.

 There are two sides to the equation of provider and consumer. The consumer, man, needs sustenance. He cannot provide it for himself; only God can. So man turns to God for his food, but in two different ways.

 First is the man who demands food from God, but he does not do it with humility, as is befitting a dependent beggar. This man is full of pride, full of demands. He wants only the food that he determines for his own plate. He rejects God’s choice for him. Further, he is not even grateful with what God has already given him, though God has sustained him and nurtured his very being from his birth. He is ungrateful. He is a rebel, and he dares to dictate to God what he needs. This hardness of heart and arrogance was characteristic of Israel while wandering in the wilderness. As told in Psalm 78, Israel rejected God’s menu, decided what it wanted to eat, and demanded that God improve the offerings!

They tested God in their heart
   by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, saying,
    “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” (Psalm 78:18-19)

 God was rightfully offended and expressed his anger, yet, as a God of mercy, satisfied their selfish demands.

He rained down on them manna to eat
   and gave them the grain of heaven.
Man ate of the bread of the angels;
   he sent them food in abundance…
he rained meat on them like dust,
   winged birds like the sand of the seas;
he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
   all around their dwellings. (Psalm 78: 24-28)

However, their wishes fulfilled, they paid a great price–the wrath of God was poured out on them for their ingratitude, disobedience and rebellion.

the anger of God rose against them,
   and he killed the strongest of them
   and laid low the young men of Israel. (Psalm 78:31)

Even this divine retribution failed to soften their hearts. Despite His working in their lives, in his miraculous intervention to feed and sustain them and in his punishment, they remained hard of heart. God repaid them in kind.

In spite of all this, they still sinned;
    despite his wonders, they did not believe.
So he made their days vanish like a breath,
   and their years in terror. (Psalm 78:32-33)

The second man acknowledges that God is his provider; he understands he is unable on his own to sustain himself. He is trusting in God completely and in whatever God offers and provides, he is grateful. For even if the portion that God provides is not the honey of this world, all who trust in Jesus know that his provision for them is the manna that comes from heaven. The good shepherd feeds his sheep.

All men are hungry, but only those whom the Father draws to Him understand what they hunger for and seek it. For God himself reveals the true source of our sustenance. Jesus told us:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

What does Jesus promise us? His bread will provide everything necessary, for he knows better than we what we truly need. Our sustenance is the word of God and it fills us with the promise of eternal life. If in this life we taste bitterness, failure, persecution, rejection, suffering, it is in order that we taste the ultimate victory in Christ–victory over sin by his conquest of sin, and victory over death in his death and resurrection.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)

We have no righteousness of our own. We can only obtain our righteousness by becoming partakers of the righteousness of Jesus, who made it available to us by his death, burial and resurrection.

 It is the attitude we have toward our sustenance and our sustainer that reveals our true health. We are fully nourished only when our hearts reflect the love of God for us in his provision. When we are prideful and determine our own fullness, and dictate to God what we need, it reveals a hardness of heart that keeps Jesus from working within us for our proper development. The story of the young ruler is a clear example for us. After his encounter with the young ruler, Jesus told the disciples:

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

The young ruler was not only materially rich. He also had a rich opinion of himself. He thought he had all that he needed already. His stomach was filled with his own honey. He thought himself righteous by his obedience to the law and the commandments. But Jesus revealed his true wretched state to him when he held up the full mirror of the law. When Jesus told him to give all he had to the poor, the young ruler recoiled, and condemned himself by the law.  He was guilty of idolatry, since he valued his riches and possessions above his devotion to, and his trust in,  God. It was his self-righteousness that made him feel full, and led him to reject the sweet honey of salvation that Jesus offered him.

So today the world thinks itself full, completely satisfied by its own honey. The honey of rationalism. The honey of self-esteem. The honey of moral relativism. The honey of universalism. Everyone considers himself full. Everyone therefore rejects the food of God. Few know that they are starving. Few know that their sin fills their stomachs with a false sense of satisfaction. Few know that sin separates them from the food that can truly satisfy their needs and make them a new creation.  Each is content with his own worldly diet, and thus misses out on the bread of life that is found only in the person of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray that we always feel hungry and ask the Lord to provide for us in all things, and ask that through the Holy Spirit working in us, and through Jesus living within us, we are humble and thankful to our Father in heaven for our daily bread. For we trust in God that everything that He provides to his believers, whether honey or food tasting of bitterness, is for our eternal good.

Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 1:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

My Way or God’s Way?

My Way or God’s Way?
It’s imbedded in today’s postmodern ethos that there is no one way for anything. There’s apparently no one way to live, one way to think, nor one set of rules or standards. Everyone is (seemingly) free to find his own way.  We profess that there are a plethora of self-proclaimed truths, but not one Truth. What’s true for one person may not be true for another. Everyone is entitled to his own truth. Therefore, one man’s way is as good as another’s. 
I agree that the way of every man (his truth) is, by reason of his underlying human nature, equal. I also hold that the way of every man is, by his very human nature, wrong. For our nature, separated from God, is corrupt. Only through the work of God can we be truly free–free to throw off the bondage of our sinful nature and choose to serve God and walk in his ways. We do not have the truth in us. Only God reveals his truth to us.
This belief in the validity of self-proclaimed righteousness is akin to the correlation between academic achievement and self-esteem in the education system. According to national surveys, in states where math achievement test scores are  highest, the students’ self-esteem is lowest. Kids who score well and know math think very lowly of their own math skills. Where achievement is low, self-esteem is high. Kids score poorly on math tests, but feel good about it! Why? Because achievement requires the motivation to engage in behaviors that are taxing and difficult and driven by a motivation to improve. That means stress and work. No one likes that. It’s like bad-tasting medicine.When students feel insecure in their own knowledge, they strive to improve and learn more.They may not feel better about their math, but they are better at math. Where students feel good about themselves and their level of math learning (no matter how weak), they feel no compunction to bother studying. As Alfed E. Neuman proclaimed “What, me worry?”
So it is with mankind today. We strive first and foremost to feel good about ourselves. We have a right to feel good. Therefore  we create a world where whatever makes us feel good is acceptable; not just acceptable and to be pursued, but a right to be demanded. We have a right to feel good. Each person’s way is thus dictated by a proclamation of a self-revealed, self-defined truth. “I am the truth,” each person proclaims. In that climate of worship of the self and a quest for absolute positive self-esteem, why bother to learn what we may lack? Why listen to anyone question our truth? Why believe there is a truth? Why believe there is a just and judging God whose word declares that what we are doing is wrong? Why allow inconvenient truths to emerge about our underlying feelings of doubt, insecurity, depression, isolation, alienation? Let’s reject, explain away, cover up or attack the source of other truths. After all, we want to feel good! So we protect our own little selfish truths at any cost.
There is only one truth. There is only one way: the Way of Jesus Christ. He is the only shepherd who can lead us out from the suffocating burdens of our doubts, fears, troubled spirits, and, yes, our untruths. There is no other way along which we can find meaning and value in our lives; for the purpose for our lives does not lie within ourselves, but outside, in the realm of the Spirit, the realm of the Eternal, the realm of heaven, the Kingdom of God.
How can we find the way? It is impossible for us alone, but with God it is possible. The way is not a philosophy, or set of moral values. The way is a person. A divine person. Jesus tells us that He is the Way.
 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
Jesus is THE Way; not a way, or one way. He is the only way. We know from the Bible that for us to get on the Way, we must believe that Jesus Christ is who he says He is: He is Lord and Savior who on the cross paid our penalty for sin, and through His resurrection, we are given the promise of eternal life. 
What do we know about His way?

1. It is hard to find and most people will never find it.

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (John 14:6)
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.  (Matthew 19:24)
 If anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him (John 11:9)
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into he kingdom of God. (John 3:5) 
2. Most people will be deceived into believing they are on the Way, but in fact they have entered through the wrong gate. It may have a sign marked “Highway to Heaven,” but it is a false road.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.(Matthew 7:13)
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (Jude 1:5)
The Israelites were delivered and God cleared their way ,  parting the sea for them, feeding them miraculously. Yet most turned against their Deliverer and were punished, and perished before reaching their destination. Now if those who were redeemed out of bondage in Egypt could be misled into thinking they were following God’s way, how much more might we be deceived into a false security of being on God’s path to eternal security?
3. You can’t buy a ticket to get onto the Way.
No effort on our part apart from faith can get us on His way.
…if  you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart  that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

 Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone. (Romans 9:32)
4. On the Way you bring nothing but faith and  trust in Jesus. It is a road that requires no packing since you enter empty-handed. We must leave everything of our old selves behind: possessions, relationships, idols, desires. We can only bring two things with us:  faith exhibited by a burning love for Jesus; and a deep abiding trust that he knows exactly what we need and will provide it for us his own time.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:37
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21
5. The Way will not be one of comfort and worldy fulfillment and success.
 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life. Matthew 7:14
6. We will never return to our old path.
As we enter through the gate that is Jesus, we are regenerated (made a new creation) by the Holy Spirit. We are empowered to follow Christ and are firmly planted on an entirely different road than in our former lives. Through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, as Christ lives in us, we will never go back. 
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”Luke 9:62
7. We have responsibilities along the Way
 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:29-30
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15
8. We are not alone on the Way; Jesus is with us.
 The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (John 10:3-4)
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have  guarded them, and not one of them has been lost. (John 17:12)
9. He gives us His Holy Spirit
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:16)
10. We have God’s promise that we he will secure each of us along his way.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:6
 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Romans 10:13
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
John 10:9
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.(John 6:44)
11. God rewards those who keep to His way.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:13
12. The Way is a sure one as long as we fix our eyes on Jesus Christ.
If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. (John 11:9)
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
   which shines brighter and brighter until full day (Proverbs 4:18)
Let your eyes look directly forward,
   and your gaze be straight before you.
 Ponder the path of your feet;
    then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
   turn your foot away from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27)
Most of us wander through life lost, searching, unable to find our way. Most  cannot see the way. Most do not bother to read the road map to life, the Bible. There is hope only in Jesus. Take heed that we do not trust in our own reason, our own hearts, or our own way. Draw wisdom from the Word of God as living water from a deep well, and we shall be firmly established on Jesus Christ’s way. The hard way. The only way. God’s way.
Published in: on February 5, 2010 at 12:52 pm  Comments (2)