The Riches of Peace ~ Jesus Calling: February 25-March 3

I realized recently that I spend a great deal of time walking circles around my house, trying to figure out the next thing I need to do, trying to plan ahead to save time, trying to remember something that I’m sure I’ve forgotten. Basically, trying to figure out the future. And this is not a peaceful place to be.

The author of Jesus Calling tells us that trying to figure out the future is grasping at things that belong to God. The “secret things” — and this, like all forms of worry, is an act of rebellion. Doubting God’s promise that He will care for us. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

In short, we should repent about worrying about the future. Jesus tells us very clearly, “Do not be anxious about your life…” (Luke 12:22) What do we think is going to happen? Do we really believe that at some point God will show us the future? If He did, what would be our need for Him? God is not in the business of showing us the future, but He is in the business of guiding us step by step and opening up the way before us as we go. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” (Psalm 32:8)

God is fully aware of all aspects of our situation. We don’t need to “carry tomorrow’s burdens today” — we need to discipline ourselves to live within the boundaries of today. Receive the peace of knowing that God walks with us in the present moment, helping us to carry the burdens of the present moment. “I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.” (Psalm 73:23) Do you doubt that God has you on the right path? Receive the peace of knowing that when Jesus gave the command “You follow me!” (John 21:22) that He also promised to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

The riches of God’s peace are the abundant joy and life that we receive by restoring our focus on Jesus and simply trusting. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3) Be bold enough to refuse to worry. Instead, bring the riches of the Peace of Jesus into your life: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Rejoice in the riches of peace.

Practicing Peace ~ Jesus Calling: February 11-24

How do we “practice” peace?

In a previous post, I described the practice of thankfulness as being a discipline in one’s life. And as with any discipline, you only become more familiar with what you are practicing the more that you practice. As with thankfulness, I believe that practicing peace will not only bring Jesus into our daily lives, but it will also bring us closer to the mind of God.

The first element of practicing peace is believing that Jesus is who He says He is. There was much told to us about Jesus long before He was born — 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied that “a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he will be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14) and “…his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) The exact meaning of Immanuel — God With Us — was then shared by the angel who appeared to Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, in a dream to comfort and encourage him as well as remind him that Isaiah’s prophecy would be fulfilled (Matthew 1:20-23).

When we practice peace, we must understand that peace is not something that can be attained by delving more and more into ourselves, but by delving more and more into the person of Jesus. In the man of Jesus we not only have God With Us, but also the Prince of Peace and the source of all peace. “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) We can dwell in this Peace, we can clothe ourselves in this Peace, we can abide and rest in this Peace. 

The second element of practicing peace is understanding that our thoughts are precious to God. We have to believe that He has an interest in how we choose to go about our day in terms of where our thoughts lead. Not only must we “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) but we must also trust that the Holy Spirit that lives within us will help us to think the thoughts of God. Practicing peace means choosing to spend our time focusing on God’s presence — a choice that we may need to make thousands of times each day — instead of choosing to focus on our problems and limitations.

Practicing peace means abandoning yourself to His will, tackling fear, and relinquishing control. Facing problems as they come instead of anticipating them. Exercising trust and being thankful in all circumstances. Focusing on what He is already doing in your life instead of striving to imagine what you wish He would do. Laying our weaknesses before Him with the assurance that He knows us intimately and that he accepts us completely.

I know, it sounds difficult if not impossible. But we take courage in God’s abundant promises: If you are in Christ you are a new creation — the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Not only is nothing impossible with God (Luke 1:37), but He is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20-21). And, thankfully, His grace is sufficient for us and, mercifully, His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Friends, enjoy the practice of peace.

Choosing a Mind of Peace ~ Jesus Calling: February 4-10

Many Christians today have heard the talk about “choosing to be Mary in a Martha world” or something similar. I don’t know about you, but that talk isn’t easy for me to listen to. You see, I’m a Martha. A born and bred Martha, from a Martha-mother and a Martha-grandmother before that. I’m not saying I enjoy being a Martha — personally, I’m tired of the struggle to have every dirty dish clean, every toy picked up, and every piece of clean laundry folded before I go to bed. I know that it’s all about choices, and I want to choose a mind of peace.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) Jesus was trying to explain to Martha that when our minds turn away from God we grasp for other things. We create unnecessary burdens and unrest. By choosing “what is better” Mary had chosen a mind of peace — she had chosen Jesus.

Choosing a mind of peace means accepting myself and my circumstances just as they are, remembering the God is sovereign over EVERYTHING. All of the things that seem undone and messy, all of the loose ends and things that can’t seem to wait until tomorrow. These are unnecessary burdens and move my focus away from Jesus, who promised us rest for our souls. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Living a Martha life is exhausting, but we shouldn’t be ashamed of this exhaustion. We can look at it as a platform for moving towards God — one moment at a time, one step at a time, one choice after another. Much of our weariness is a result of our constant battle against the distractions of the world. “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6)

We are guaranteed to always have problems in this life, but they do not have to be our focus. God knows our weaknesses and chooses to meet us there. But we must choose to meet Him there as well. Remember that Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the wind, he became afraid and began to sink. He cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand, caught him, and asked “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14: 29-32)

Jesus Calling: January 28-February 3

Well, my plan to have this post up early this week got blown out of the water. My plate has been full with preparations for my daughter’s 3rd birthday party this weekend! I will, however, offer these thoughts from Jesus Calling January 28-February 3…and hope that they bless you nonetheless.

  • When the Presence of Jesus is the focal point of your consciousness, all the pieces of your life fall into place. The fact that Jesus is with you makes every moment of your life meaningful. Matthew 28:20; Psalm 139:1-4
  • You have the ability to choose the focal point of your mind – this is a sign of being made in God’s image.
  • Let the goal of the day be to bring every thought captive to Christ. Psalm 8:5, Genesis 1:26-27, 2 Cor 10:5, Isaiah 26:3
  • Whatever occupies your mind the most becomes your god.
  • God reads our thoughts, continually searching for evidence of trust in Him. Psalm 112:7, 1 Cor 13:11
  • Keep your mind on the present journey. Walk by faith not by sight. Psalm 18:29, Psalm 91:11-12, 2 Cor 5:7
  • Jesus is renewing your mind – a renewed mind is presence-focused. Train your mind to seek Christ in every moment, every situation. Romans 12:2, Psalm 105:4
  • Fix your eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. Focus on the Living One who sees you always. Romans 8:31, 2 Cor 4:18, Genesis 16:13-14

Whispering His Name ~ Jesus Calling: January 21-27, 2013

So much of the Christian life is learning to let go. We are always hanging on to things, people, circumstances, habits — even if we know that these things hinder us from having true peace. In many ways we are dependent on (or even addicted to) these things because they make us feel a certain way, even if that feeling is negative. Reinforcement isn’t always positive.

I think the key to all of this is learning that letting go means living in the present and not the past. We hang on to feelings that do not serve us in the present moment, which is where God desires for us to exist. In the present moment, God can begin to wean us from these dependencies and effectively bring us into His living, vibrant, and eternal presence. “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)

Starting in the present moment means accepting things exactly as they are, here and now. Not how they were in the past or may be in the future — not how you wish they would have been or would like for them to be. I’m not saying this is easy. Accepting the here and now can cause a great deal of anxiety and can lead us to focus on problems instead of hope. As the author of Jesus Calling says, give up the illusion that you deserve a problem-free life! Jesus promised “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus is not asking us to create different circumstances in our lives. He asks us to have the right response to the circumstances He has given us. When we glorify God in the midst of adverse circumstances, the world is in disbelief. We are given countless ways to gain the world’s peace — the self-help sections of bookstores are overflowing — but have you ever noticed that the self-help books continue to be written while the message of God stays the same? “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:39) The source of our peace is knowing that His peace never changes, regardless of our circumstances.

How can we live in the here and now? The author of Jesus Calling encourages us to make a practice of “whispering” the name of Jesus. I love this idea because it accomplishes, in a very simple way, a return of our focus back to a single point: Jesus, the One who never changes. Whispering His name in the midst of chaos and anxiety can calm the storm with the same power that Jesus used to calm the furious squall: “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” (Mark 4:39) Whispering the name of Jesus generates peace and enables us to develop “a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (I Peter 3:4)

Practice whispering the name of Jesus today. Let the sound of His name on your lips remind you of His promise and perfection.

 

To Buddhism and Back Again

Ah, Buddhism. Where to begin? I’ll just say it.

I am a Christian and I love Buddhism. But don’t turn the channel just yet! I promise I am going somewhere with this.

Those close to me know that I began to study Buddhism in my mid-20’s during a time when Christianity just didn’t make sense to me anymore. I had been raised in a Christian family, went to Sunday School, knew all the big Bible stories (remember the little felt board with Jonah and the Whale?), and had been a good church-going girl, fundamentalist even. But imagine the good church-going girl who leaves her tiny Missouri town, heads to the liberal arts university, starts taking classes in feminist theory and world religions, and BAM. I thought my world was suddenly too big for the God I had grown up with.

Enter the Buddha.

My journey into Buddhism would last for over 10 years, and eventually led me all the way to Mongolia to work alongside monks and other fellow travelers on the restoration of a beautiful Tibetan Buddhist monastery that had been laid to waste during the occupation of Mongolia by China and Russia in the early 1920’s. It was an amazing experience. Working on clearing rocks and rubble to uncover statues and relics during the day and sleeping in a traditional ger (“yurt”) at night. Rising in the morning to the sounds of the cows munching grass outside the door (Mongolia is a land without fences) and walking quietly in the dark to sit in meditation and chant morning prayers.

The deeper I delved into Buddhism the more I felt both comforted and incredibly lonely. The teachings spoke to my deepest being but it always seemed like I was opening up a beautiful treasure box that was disappointingly empty inside. Any Buddhist would tell you that maybe this feeling of emptiness was actually a glimpse of the non-attachment that is the goal of true enlightenment. I don’t know. It just felt empty.

One afternoon a work colleague took me to lunch and asked me very simply, “Why Buddhism?” I recall stumbling and stuttering over an answer. Shortly after that, a Christian girlfriend invited me to a Bible study at her house. My Bibles had been packed away in boxes for so long I didn’t even know where they were, but I found them and I went. Mostly to see what it would feel like, if it would be familiar again to me, or if it would feel empty too.

That was 12 years ago. I believe now that Jesus knew I would choose to spend time apart from Him, and He knew that I would return. My soul belongs to Him but He would not prevent me from seeking and knocking on other doors. Through His servant Paul He tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2: 12b-13) God promises: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD…” (Jeremiah 29:13-14a) I am confident that we should never be afraid of the search.

This post represents the first of what may likely be many posts on “to Buddhism and back again.” I hope to share a humble Christian perspective on the teachings of the Buddha. I hope this will engage and not alienate. I hope to grow in the awe of a sovereign God who is ultimately restoring all things in creation to Himself, including the Buddha.

Fully Understood ~ Jesus Calling: January 14-20

We all have a deep desire to be fully understood by the people we love. This is our life search — understanding from our parents, our spouse, our children. We pursue this understanding relentlessly, forgetting that we are already fully understood by Jesus. The Lord ensured Samuel that “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7). When we are in the middle of sadness, we are sure our hearts are empty and no one can understand our despair. Is it possible to rest in knowing that Jesus looks on your heart, sees you, and offers you the peace of being fully understood? As the author of Jesus Calling says, “Do not be ashamed of your emptiness.” You are a vessel waiting to be filled.

We are offered “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7) Jesus is this Peace, offered to us moment by moment. We spend so much of our time rehearsing our troubles and multiplying our suffering. Our human nature propels us to try to figure out what will happen next, how we can prepare, how we can avoid trouble. Our first parents desired this knowledge and it led to the fall of humanity. It was then that the Enemy promised the first and greatest lie: “…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) The peace that God offered to our first parents — the peace of simply being in His presence and being fully understood — was the peace that we rejected then and continue to reject today.

God promises that “you will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Seeking His peace moment by moment is probably one of the most difficult things we can do. But we can do it, knowing that we are fully saturated in His grace and fully understood.

The Discipline of Thankfulness ~ Jesus Calling: January 7-13, 2013

Thankfulness. Help. Trust.

Have you ever considered thankfulness as an act of discipline in your life? We tend to think of thankfulness as an emotion that arises when things are going well, when something great has happened, when we feel a prayer has been answered, and we break out in spontaneous praises of thankfulness to God. But what about the times of struggle? Disappointment? Loneliness? Depression? Self-pity? Are we praising God during these times as well? God asks us to develop a discipline of thankfulness in our lives — thankfulness as an act of will.  We do all kinds of things in our lives as an act of will — we go to work each day, we exercise, we pay the bills, we buy the groceries, and…we give thanks?

God wants us to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is His will in Christ Jesus (I Thessalonians 5:18). He ensures us that He is our refuge and strength, an ever-present Help in trouble (Psalm 46:1), giving us reason to then rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12). In other words, at the very moment that you don’t feel you have any reason to be thankful, get down on your knees and praise the One who says that “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

As with any discipline, you only become more familiar with what you are practicing the more that you practice. Any athlete, dancer, artist, or yoga practitioner can tell you this. But as Christians, we have a promise that goes along with the discipline of thankfulness — we are promised the presence of God! As we draw near to God in the discipline of thankfulness, He draws near to us because He literally inhabits our praises (“Yet you are holy, dwelling in the praises of Israel” [Psalm 22:3]).

Thankfulness is an investment in our relationship with God. This is the investment that Jesus was referring to when he told us to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20-21) We respond to His presence with praise and thankfulness, the relationship is strengthened, trust is gained, and we deepen our familiarity with our Creator.

Jesus Calling: January 1-6, 2013

As I move into 2013, I find myself seeking and anticipating a time of renewal. My daughter is finally getting to an age where I don’t feel that she demands all of my attention and I can return to some of the things in my life that have been put on the back burner. One of the tools of renewal is the Word of God, and I love that Jesus Calling begins with the encouragement “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2) We cannot truly have a renewal of the mind without regular time spent in the Presence of Jesus.

A consistent theme in the first week of Jesus Calling is the presence of God. Throughout the week, the author chooses beautiful phrases and scriptural references to remind us about the attentiveness of His presence, His healing presence, the light of His presence, the peace of His presence, and His universal presence. It is one thing to understand that Jesus said He will never leave us or forsake us. But do you also realize that this means His presence is constantly with you? That in the here and now He is fully and universally attentive to you?

Don’t get me wrong — this is not an “all about me” idea. Many believers make the mistake that everything Jesus did and said was all about them and now they just need to figure out how to squeeze the blessings out of this salvation thing. Wrong. Everything that Jesus did and said was because He was carrying out His father’s plan to reconcile the world to Himself. We are part of that plan. God has desired relationship with His creation (including us) from the beginning, but it took the sacrifice of Jesus to bring that relationship back to fullness.

Relationship requires the presence of both individuals. As many people in broken relationships know, it doesn’t work if only one person is present. Jesus offers us His constant presence and in return He asks us for our attentiveness to that presence. He asks for trust, deep dependence, and profound reliance. His presence is our constant companion and place of refuge. The author of Jesus Calling encourages us to hide in the secret of His presence, knowing that we are in the Presence of the One “who can do infinitely more than all we can ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20)

Enter into His presence today.

Sermon on the Mount: Week 9 and Blogging hiatus to prepare for baby!

This was the final week of our study of Kay Arthur’s book on the Sermon on the Mount, Lord, I’m Torn Between Two Masters. In many ways, Arthur definitely came “full circle” from Week 1 when she focused on the kingdom of heaven, what it is, and its coming glory. This final week focused on possessing the kingdom of heaven and coming to a true understanding of how Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount shines a light on His kingdom.

The life of righteousness set before us in the Sermon on the Mount is one that is impossible to attain without Christ. Many non-believers will try to emulate the principles of the Sermon but will ultimately fail in achieving a righteousness that “surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees.” (Matthew 5:20) This life of righteousness is one characterized by complete dependence on Christ. A persistent striving to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7) and a belief that God delights in our dependence on Him. This is His character.

We note the parallels between the Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments in that the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) begin with our relationship with God (vv 2-6; poorness in spirit, mourning, meekness, a hunger/thirst for righteousness) and then turn to our relationship with others (vv 7-12; mercy, making peace, persecution). In the same way, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) first instruct us on relating to YHWH (vv 2-8; idols, taking the LORD’s name in vain, keeping the Sabbath) before instructing us on relating to our fellow man (vv 9-17; honoring parents, murder, adultery, stealing, lying, coveting).

As we have learned throughout this study, Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). His Sermon on the Mount gives us a fuller understanding of the Law and how this Law is fulfilled through our Savior and ultimately fulfilled in our lives when we strive to live by the higher Law of Love.

There was an interesting “news” feature on ABC World News describing how “nearly 6 in 10 Americans blend their faith with new age beliefs.” According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Americans from all religions are blending their traditional beliefs with new age and eastern beliefs, such as astrology, reincarnation, and yoga. What is most disturbing about this trend is how it stands in striking opposition to the teaching of Jesus. Humans will always want to enter the kingdom of God on their own terms. That is the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. But what does Jesus say?

“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. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few… 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. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:13-14; 21-23)

In the words of Kay Arthur, “How small is that gate? It’s so small that it causes you to bow in total poverty of spirit in order to enter it. How narrow is the way that leads to life? It is the narrow way of righteousness, a righteousness that actually exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees.” (p 242)

Strive to enter by the narrow gate, friends. Jesus is the only way through that gate and his teaching is pure and true. Do not be fooled by false teachers and do not be swayed by the desire to find a spirituality that “fits” your lifestyle or makes sense on the afternoon talk shows. Our God is a holy God who calls us to a life of righteousness modeled after Christ. Make the choice. Shalom!

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Thank you to all of the lovely women of Grace Chapel who joined us for this study of the Sermon on the Mount. As many of you know, I will be taking a break from leading study and blogging to prepare to have my first child in a few short weeks. I wish God’s blessing on you and your family and look forward to joining you again very soon!