Posts tagged ‘Peace’

Set Me Free!

In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free.  Psalm 118:5

When I was 10 years old, I yearned for the day I would be free. I suspect this thinking has been pretty common among kids since Adam & Eve were expelled from the Garden. As a child, parents make rules that seem to restrict freedom. That was certainly true for me. When I wanted to play, my parents had chores for me to do. When I wanted to stay up late at night to watch TV, I was told to go to bed. When I didn’t want to eat liver and onions, I was told that I had to because liver was good for me. (Not everything parents tell their children is in their best interest! But that is another topic for another day.) And so I yearned for the day when I could be free to make my own decisions. 

Well, that day came all too quickly. Before I knew it, I was an adult with the ability to choose how and where I spend my time, and in what activities. Sometimes those activities were uplifting. And sometimes they were self-destructive. As I look back at my own life and the decisions I have made, both good and bad, I find that I make them in the pursuit of freedom. I want to be my own person. I want to do and think and be what makes me happy, what I want to do, without any encumbrances from outside influences. In other words, I want to make my own rules. Perhaps this is the human condition, the pursuit of freedom that we think can only come if we make the rules and disregard any other rules. 

It is my observation that addictive behavior comes from a disregard of God’s rules in favor of my own rules in the pursuit of freedom. One reason it doesn’t work to make our own rules is that they often come out of our deepest fears and greatest dysfunctions. The fear of rejection, the need for approval, the desire for success can cause me, and I’m sure many others, to write some crazy rules. Work can become an addiction as I forever seek one more accolade, one more “atta boy”, and one more impossible task made possible.

But true freedom does not come from our fears. True freedom is not in doing more things to make us feel better about ourselves. True freedom does not come from attempting to rewrite the laws of nature, as if we could. True freedom comes from living within the rule of love that brings life, happiness, joy, and peace. Said another way, when love rules, freedom reigns.

King David knew something about writing his own rules for life that brought heartache rather than peace, bondage rather than freedom. And so he wrote Psalm 118 as a hymn to be sung on the way to a festival of worship. It is an anthem to be sung when we go to worship God. And part of this anthem is an acknowledgement that freedom emanates from God, not us. The circumstances of life that are outside of us and the demons of life that are within us can make us feel like we need to rewrite the rules of life in order to experience freedom. But this is a lie from the devil, himself.

The truth about freedom is that it is given to us every time we call out to God in distress. When we reach out to God, spend time with Him, talk with Him, and clear some space in our heads to be with Him, we experience freedom. He will replace our misguided thoughts about ourselves and our self-destructive beliefs about life that enslave us with thoughts of unconditional love and abiding acceptance that will set us free. True freedom allows us to live in joy and peace as we are motivated by faith, hope, and love. These are the eternal rules of the universe that bring everlasting freedom. May we live by His rules. May we lift one another up in our pursuit of freedom. May we never again write our own rules, but rather submit to the rule of our all powerful, all loving, indwelling God.

The Call

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”   Genesis 12:1

The word “leave” evokes anxiety in me. I had two older sisters who would leave me to go to a boarding high school every year. I have fond memories of spending summers with my grandfather on the farm when I was a kid, but leaving was always difficult. My first airplane flight was to Atlanta when I was 16 years old to see my sister and her newborn son. I will never forget the sadness of leaving them the day it was time for me to go home. And then there was the day when it was time to leave home for college. It was a scary place. I had never lived apart from my parents, and now I was in another state – all alone. When I arrived at college I discovered my roommate didn’t want to room with me. And so there I was, in a new place, feeling rejected and all alone as my parents had to leave for home. 

And yet, with every “leave” is a new horizon. I would leave my grandparents to enjoy my friends at home. When it was time to leave my sister and nephew, I found myself back in high school. When it was time to leave home for college, I found a roommate who has been a friend for life. But even experiencing the gain that can come from leaving, I still find it very difficult.

As I consider how God calls us, I find it interesting that His call often begins with the word “leave.” We see it in Genesis 12:1. And every call from God that I have experienced has began with the same word, “leave.” God told me to leave my dream of being a doctor behind as I went to Andrews University to study theology. He then gave me permission to leave the pursuit of pastoral ministry in favor of medical school. But then He clearly called me to leave my medical practice many years later. I was in the wilderness of uncertainty about my future for over 7 months when I received a call from the Richland Adventist Church to be their pastor. Perhaps the most difficult call from God for me to hear and process was the call to leave this very church. But it wasn’t until I could clearly identify the fact that God was calling me to leave Richland that I could grasp where to go with any clarity. 

And so before I was ever called to Denver, I was called to leave Richland. When you are in a place you love, leaving is sad. When you are with people you love, leaving brings anxiety. But when God calls, He also supplies the courage, strength, wisdom, and gifts necessary for the way forward. He also gives peace in the journey. Following God’s call ultimately brings peace that covers any anxiety, and gives joy that alleviates any sadness. It is this peace and joy that ultimately confirms the call, and for me, the very existence of God in my life.

Perhaps, just perhaps, God calls us to leave what we are doing to follow Him in new adventures because He is calling all of us to leave this world for His Kingdom. On that glorious day when Jesus returns to gather those who have responded to His call home, we will have to first leave this home. Are you ready to leave? Are you listening for His call?

 

Is Love Enough?

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.  Acts 8:4

A few weeks ago I saw a picture of a Christian in Syria with a rope around his neck as he stood on a wooden box. He was about to be hung by the ISIS extremists for being a Christian. The man was smiling. It was not a smile of defiance, but rather one of peace, love, and compassion. As I looked at the face of this man, I knew he was much more than a Christian, he was a disciple of Jesus. 

Christian is a name given to people who are disciples of Jesus by those who do not believe in Jesus. The word Christian was first used by the people of Antioch (one of the Roman Empire’s largest cities) to describe those who followed Jesus. You can read about this in Acts 11:26. Jesus, however, calls us to be disciples, followers of Him. The issue is that Christianity is a religion that has been organized around the teachings of Jesus. But a disciple is person whose life revolves around the love of Jesus. One is based on teaching knowledge about God. The other is based on living in relationship with God. 

These two concepts do not need to be in opposition to one another. When I think about it, I actually want to understand someone I love. I want to know what he or she likes and what makes them happy. When a person I trust tells me that yellow is not my color, I choose to avoid wearing yellow shirts. When someone I love gives me a necktie, I find myself wanting to wear it at every opportunity. However, when a stranger whom I just met at a dinner party tells me that yellow is not my color or that I need a new necktie, I do not respond favorably to such information. In fact, I might find myself wearing yellow shirts just to prove that I am not bound by such a person’s opinions.

So when I read Acts 8:4, I know there is something pretty amazing about Jesus. When His followers were put into prison, tortured, and even killed, those who survived did not go into hiding, but rather told everyone who would listen about the Good News. But what is the Good News? It could not have been that you would be persecuted if you believed in Jesus. There had to be something they were sharing that was compelling, something more than facts and data and teachings. Could it be as simple as love? Could the Good News simply be a love story? Could the most compelling concept in the world that can cause a man with a noose around his neck to smile really just be a 4-letter word – LOVE? In a word, yes!

When all we have is love, we have more than we deserve and can give more than we have. When all we have is love, our hearts are united with the heart of God, our darkness is turned to light, our misbelief is turned to truth, our discouragement is replaced with courage, and our weakness is replaced with power. I don’t care if you call me a Christian, but what I really want to be is a disciple of Jesus. 

Peace Be With You

And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said.   Luke 24:36

How do we get peace? It’s what we all want. When your best friend in the world is upset with you, nothing feels right anymore. When your mom or dad, sister or brother, son or daughter tell you to leave them alone for whatever reason, you feel isolated and dejected. When your core beliefs are attacked by someone you respect and love, you feel anxious and alone. So when the disciples witnessed not only the death of Jesus, but the humiliation and repudiation of Him and His ministry, they were distraught. They had no peace.

Every year there was a friendly battle between the firefighters and policemen in my home town. They would gather in the street in front of the large downtown Fire Station. The object of the battle was to use the force of the water from the fire hoses to push the other side behind a line drawn on the street. The water pressure coming from those hoses was massive. It would knock anyone off their feet and push them back. The confrontation was set up to be like a tug-of-war, but with water pressure. Both sides faced each other head on. So when the policemen sent some of the men to sneak around to the side of the firefighters with hoses, they easily blew them back behind the line. The battle was over. I saw my dad and other firefighters swept off their feet and rolled backwards like rag dolls. I was humiliated for my dad and all the firefighters. That image is seared into my memory.

I imagine the disciples felt a 1000 times more humiliated and confused when they saw Jesus spit on, called names, flogged, and placed on a cross. Whatever peace they had in their hearts was ripped out that day at Calvary. Their world spun out of control. I can only imagine they had a sick feeling in their stomachs from an anxiety that caused a deep ache in their hearts and a fog in their heads. And so they were dejected when Jesus walked with two of them on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection. There He “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)  As they looked at Scripture through the eyes of Jesus, they began to see a bigger story. Their former belief in Jesus as their earthly savior was replaced by the truth that He was their heavenly Savior who had come to reconcile them to the Father. As Jesus explained the Scriptures to them, they felt a “burning” in their hearts. (Luke 24:32) This burning is none other than the Word of God piercing the heart like a sword.

We can do one of two things with that burning. We can reject it and go our own way, or we can accept it and follow Jesus. We read that all of the disciples gathered sometime later to hear how two of them had met Jesus. Perhaps those two were explaining the Word when He suddenly showed up and said, “Peace be with you.” Peace always follows Jesus. The disciples felt a burning in their hearts when Jesus taught them the truth in the Scriptures. But they didn’t have peace until they sat down with Jesus, ate with Him, and saw Him for who He truly is – their Savior.

Peace doesn’t come from the burning in my heart. But that burning can motivate me to invite Jesus into my heart. When I eat with Jesus and open my heart to Him, peace settles my stomach, calms my heart, and clears my head. No wonder Jesus tells us in Revelation 3:20, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” Do you want peace? Eat with Jesus.

Will You Sit with God?

The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.”   Psalm 110:1

I find spiritual battles in life to be the the toughest battles of all. Perhaps that’s because most of my battles are spiritual at their core. If I have a disagreement with a friend, how I respond is a spiritual battle within me. If I struggle to complete a task, whether I have the courage to stick it out to the end is a spiritual battle within me. And so I find what matters most is where I am at when the battle is raging.   

My first job was at the age of 12 working in the yard of a wealthy family. My dad had taken care of their lawn a few hours each week as a side job for years. But he convinced the family to hire me for 30 hours a week to care for every aspect of their lawn. It was my responsibility to trim the bushes and weed the flower beds. I was also given the task of edging around the entire house, every tree, and every bush. This was an overwhelming task except for one thing, my dad brought me lunch and we sat in the lawn to eat and converse every day. Sitting with my dad on the job he had procured for me made me feel special, safe, and assured in my abilities. During those lunches there were days we didn’t talk about much. We just enjoyed each other’s company. On other days, we talked about the next project and how to do it. That experience was not only invaluable, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Sitting with my dad made what would have been an impossible job possible. But more than that, those lunches with dad made the job enjoyable, fulfilling, and memorable.

There are a two lessons I learned from that experience. The first is that time sitting with a mentor is time well spent. This is especially true when the mentor is someone who loves and respects you. My dad was my first mentor, but not my last. As I have sat beside mentors over the years, I always feel honored and accepted. And when I sit with God, it is invaluable time that has eternal consequences. He takes my negative self talk and transforms it into thoughts that inspire me to keep going forward. As I sit with God, He turns my anger into a desire to understand myself and the one with whom I am angry. He takes what feels like an impossible situation and turns it into a fulfilling one. 

The second lesson is that God calls us into vocations, tasks, and ministries. The fact that my dad had so much confidence in me helped me to complete the tasks asked of me. And so it is in our lives as we understand God’s will in our personal lives. He has a plan for you and for me. Every time I have heard His call and responded, I have the confidence to know that He will accomplish more through me than I would ever ask or think. 

No matter what life brings, how tough the circumstances become, or the trials that come our way, we have the assurance that God invites us to sit next to Him in the place of honor. When you sit with God and allow His strength and His power to overcome the circumstances and trials that are in your life, you are the victor. The key is sitting by God’s side, listening to Him speak, and being patient to allow Him to do the work. If you’re like me, that is a difficult task. But there is no shortcut to peace of mind and joy of heart. It always comes at the side of God. What would it look like for you to sit with God this week?

A Peaceful Heart

A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; jealousy is like cancer in the bones.  Proverbs 14:30

I was sitting in the Denver airport waiting for my flight to board when a young woman approached the gate agent in obvious distress. The gate agent was calm and attentive as the woman began yelling at her hysterically. She was angry that her flight had been delayed while “all the other flights” were right on time. She became more and more intolerant and belligerent as she told the gate agent she wanted to get home. The agent tried to calm her down, but nothing she said seemed to help.

In the meantime, I observed a mother quietly waiting for the same flight who had 3 children under the age of 6 with her. The children were playing as the mother attended to their needs and desires. Her oldest child spilled his drink, but this was taken in stride as the mother recognized if for the minor accident it was. Nothing seemed to phase this mom. And her kids responded in kind.

I think about this experience when I am tempted to look at those around me who seem to be in good health while eating high fat foods that I love to eat. Sometimes it feels like everyone around me is in good health while I struggle to find the right food and the right amount of exercise and the right medications in the right doses. I know this isn’t true, but that’s what happens when I do not have peace in my heart. So how can we get this peace? How can we be the mother of three waiting calmly for a delayed flight rather than the angry woman? The answer lies within the heart.

When I focus on God rather than others, peace comes into my heart. When I seek His face each morning, recognize His presence in my life throughout each day, read His Word, listen to His voice, and act on His promises, His peace fills my heart. And with this peace comes the ability to face the circumstances of life. When my heart is at peace, my mind is open to His thoughts. When my heart is at peace, my ears hear His voice when others speak to me. When my heart is at peace, my eyes see Him more clearly in those around me. When my heart is at peace, my body is in harmony with itself. 

The path to health begins in the heart filled with peace. Do you have peace today? If not, what will you do today to fill your heart with peace?

Take Heart!

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

Trials and sorrows come in many shapes and forms. They are part of the human experience as we know it. No one escapes them. Everyone has them. And yet the trials and sorrows we all experience can be part of a peace-filled, purpose-filled, joy-filled life. There are times when our trials and sorrows overwhelm and discourage us, while there are other times when they become the foundation of spiritual growth and peace. So what makes the difference? How can we claim the promise of Romans 8:28 that all things work together for good for those who love God?

Jesus took the time to prepare His disciples for the cross. He knew they were expecting Him to be an earthly king who would overthrow the Roman government. He knew His death would be a major trial for them causing great and overwhelming sorrow. Can you imagine how devastating it must have been to the disciples to see Jesus hanging on the cross? All of their hopes and dreams of a life with Him must have vanished. They must have felt the deepest sorrow possible. They may even have felt abandoned and all alone.

Can you identify with their experience? Have you ever felt all alone? Misunderstood? Abandoned by others and by God? Most, if not all, of us know what this feels like. We have been discouraged by the trials of life, the sorrows of this earth. Many of us are facing such trials at this very moment. But Jesus explains to us today as He did to His disciples 2000 years ago that what we physically see is rarely the full story. Consider the Cross. What felt like total loss and abandonment was actually the greatest act of love providing  the greatest power and the eternal presence of God ever to be experienced in the universe.

Not only did sin die with Jesus on that Cross, but the Holy Spirit was released to live in our hearts with the power to bring peace and victory in the presence of every trial and sorrow. When we realize this fact, we can experience God’s peace in every circumstance. Because love conquered sin on the Cross, Jesus is able to turn apparent loss, abandonment, trials, and even sorrow into a peace that passes all understanding. And this peace is found IN Jesus.

If you are having trials or sorrows, “take heart.” Abide in Jesus as He has overcome the world! Allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in your heart. Peace comes when we live by faith in a love relationship with Jesus who gives us the ability to see beyond the circumstances of this life and turn our trials into opportunities and our sorrows into joy.

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