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When the hymn-writer wrote those words, ‘When peace like a river attendeth my soul, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul,’  he described the reality of the alternating of peace and turbulence in the life of a believer.   More peace and less turbulence is my goal.  But how does one “get” peace?

The Bible gives some important answers to this question.  First of all, Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”  So on the one hand, peace has been given to us by Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Although we have been given peace, we need to live in the place of peace.  To that end, the Bible also teaches us to pursue peace.  The Psalmist in Psalm 34:14 says to “depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.”  Romans 12:18 tells us, “if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”   Romans 14:19 tells us to “pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”   Hebrews 12:14 says, “pursue peace with all people.” (emphasis added)   These verses speak of a lifestyle that we, as believers, need to seek after.  We need to put some effort into peace-making and peace-keeping.  We need to not be the ones engaging in peace-taking.

The better news is found in the book of Isaiah where the prophet says of God in Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.”  The reality is that when our minds are focused on God, God keeps us in the peace He promised us.

May the peace of God descend upon your heart today.  May you pursue peace as much as you are able.

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Wait for and confidently expect the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for and confidently expect the Lord.
Psalm 27:14 (Amplified)

The Amplified version brings out some interesting nuances of this text. First of all, we see that it is not merely waiting that is required. Rather it is waiting for someone in particular, namely the Lord. Moreover, the waiting is not passive as one might wait for a bus or a train, but this is waiting with accompanying expectation–confident expectation in the Lord and what He will do. We can have this confident expectation because of the promises that God has made to us in His Word. Promises like . . . “I will never leave or forsake you,” “I provide a way of escape from temptation,” “I will deliver you,” “I’ll come back for you,” and many others. We are instructed by the psalmist to expect the Lord to do what He has promised to do as we wait for Him to do so.

We are told to “be strong.” The strength the psalmist has in mind is mental strength. This strength speaks of choice. We are to choose to believe God and His Word. We are to choose to allow the Spirit of God to reign in our hearts and minds. As the Spirit fills us, we will experience the resulting fruit of the Spirit, namely patience, long-suffering and self-control.

Once we choose to go God’s way, He will flood our hearts with courage–courage we know could never be our own. Once we are strengthened by this courage, we are able to wait. God is still and always in charge.

In this verse, the first phrase and the last phrase are the same; bookends that reinforce the beginning and the end of the matter–wait on the Lord. It’s worth repeating.

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I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Romans 12:1-2

In a previous blog post, (The Sacrifice), we discussed the first part of this section–the sacrifice. The second verse goes on to give further direction in terms of how to be that living sacrifice–“do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed.”

What would it look like to be conformed to this world? I think of the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat. A thermometer merely measures the temperature–in fact is conforms by either rising or contracting to reflect the temperature. It does nothing to change the temperature. In contract, the thermostat when reflecting the temperature is dropping, kicks the heater into gear. It impacts the temperature. That is what it means to not be conformed to the world–but rather to be a force for transformation.

How we should view the world is described in different parts of scripture. One helpful passage is 1 John 2:15-17 where we are told, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” For these and many other reasons found in scripture, we should not be conformed to the world.

This passage tells us some important facts about the world including what it consists of, namely “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Also we learn that the world is passing away–it is temporary unlike God who “abides forever.”

How does one not be conformed by the world–it is all around us? James offers some suggestions: endure temptation (James 1:12), be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22), seek wisdom from above (James 3:17), and do not be friends with the world (James 4:4). In Ephesians we are told to do all to stand in the battle. To that end, we are exhorted to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). These are not the only means to the end of non-conformity to the world, but rather they are a starting point. The Bible is meant to be studied and read over and over until the Word of God penetrates our hearts and minds and we become restored to the image of God inside and out.

The renewing of our minds occurs when we live and breathe God and His Word. We see a picture of this renewed mind in Philippians 2:2-5, “[be] like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:2-5 Unity is evidence that our minds are being renewed. It is one way we “prove the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

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I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Romans 12:1

When I read this passage from Romans chapter 12, I can almost smell the incense burning in the Sanctuary. It presents us with images that should conjure up the bronze altar of sacrifice in the court of the Holy Sanctuary (Temple) in Jerusalem.

Paul, the Apostle and author of the book of Romans was an observant Jew as well as a Pharisee (expert in the study of Torah). These are not accidental words or images he gave us. His life before meeting Jesus on the Damascus road (See Acts 9) was organized around the feasts, offerings and prayers in the Sanctuary. After watching the Priests and Levites prepare and offer up thousands of offerings of sheep, goats, rams, pigeons, and turtle doves, he couldn’t help but know that offerings were acts of worship to God.

This was not a sacrifice; however, to atone for sin. Jesus was the once-for-all sacrifice. No further offerings for sin are necessary. Rather this was a sacrifice in order to fellowship with God–a peace offering like those spoken of in Leviticus chapter 3.

The sacrifice God is requiring from us is a living sacrifice. We will offer God living sacrifices because He has given us new life by the power of the Holy Spirit. (2 Corinthians5:17) In asking for a living sacrifice, God is giving us a choice. A living sacrifice must choose to stay on the altar. The life must be given–not taken. Jesus is the model of such a sacrifice in John 10:18, “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”

The sacrifice must also be holy. Holy means set apart for God, not profaned or contaminated. The sacrifice must also be acceptable to God. I think this is where folks sometimes get off track. They offer to God what they want to offer to God with no consideration of what God wants or what God has said about worship in His Word. This is a big mistake. God has standards of a worthy sacrifice. We must meet those standards. Consider some of the things God says about being acceptable before Him.

First of all, we must be obedient. (1 Samuel 15:22, John 14:15, 1 John 5:2-3). We must also be merciful. (Hosea 6:6, Matthew 5:7; 9:13) We must come before God with clean hands and pure hearts. (Psalm 24:3-4) We must approach God through Jesus, our Mediator. (John 14:6) These and the other requirements laid out in the Word of God are what make us acceptable to God. We must meet His standards–not the standards of men or the standards of our own minds.

Here are some other posts on Romans 12: My Reasonable ServiceRomans 12: Acceptable to GodRomans 12: Holy?Romans 12: How shall I present my body? ,Romans 12: Presenting your bodyDoes God require me to be holy?

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     Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Paul mentions this “one thing” he does to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him. The Amplified version tells us “that” refers to “perfection.” Perfection is why Christ took hold of Paul and why He has taken hold of us. He desires that we might be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. (See Matthew 5:48)

So what is this “one thing” Paul says that he does? “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Examining Paul’s statement more closely we see that he is really speaking of doing three things: forgetting those things which are behind, reaching forward to those things ahead, and pressing toward the goal

Forgetting
What does it mean to forget? The dictionary has several definitions of forgetting which carry with them a lack of intentionality. However, Paul’s statement has no such connotation. Forget in this case means to cease to think of something or someone by choice. To say it another way, he is telling us to no longer have those things in the center of our thoughts or focus.
What would Paul be thinking of that we need to forget? What are some of the things “which are behind?” Perhaps Paul was thinking of the things that he had done that offended God. Perhaps he was thinking of his own sin in persecuting the church. One had to forget one’s past–Paul knew that. Too much focus on past wrongs might cause a person to become paralyzed with guilt and/or shame.

Paul may also have been thinking of the religious life he left behind–the life of a Pharisee. He was, in his community, a man of considerable stature–his future was bright. Earlier in Philippians chapter 3, Paul describes himself as “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” He had what many of his contemporaries would have envied. But those things he chose to forget.

We need to choose to forget both the good and the bad. Having repented, we need to forget how bad we were, our sin, our wrong conduct, our failures. We cannot focus on them or make them the center of our thoughts. We need also to choose to forget our successes–who we were in the world’s eyes, how much we had accomplished–our bright future. Forget–choose to forget. We choose to forget not because these things are not important–but rather because in comparison to the prize we are seeking there are not important.

Reaching Forward
Reaching is an action which speaks of intentionality beyond one’s current location or circumstances. It suggests there are thin–a goingt location, beyond our ability, perhaps even beyond our imagination. Thus, we must reach forward. It is a complement to the forgetting what lies behind. Reaching forward necessarily requires letting go of what was before, things that mattered in the past become less significant as we move toward what lies ahead.
So what might Paul be thinking of as he speaks of “reaching forward to those things which are ahead?” Paul might be thinking of the work for God, e.g. the next city he will visit or the next group of people to whom he will minister. He might also be thinking of spiritual progress such as a greater closeness to God, a greater freedom from sin, a greater zeal for God and bringing Him glory, or a greater sorrow over sin. But he might also be thinking of setting himself more steadfastly toward heaven and eternal life with God.

Pressing Toward the Goal
Paul tells us that he presses toward the goal–further emphasizing the forward momentum of his life. The word “press” is not passive. It speaks of determination and diligence. Paul is telling us that with great energy and desire, he moves toward the goal. He sees it, and with all the force he can muster, he explodes in that direction. But what is the goal? Paul says it’s “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” One day we, all believers will receive a call from God–a call to come out of time and into eternity. I believe that is the prize Paul was looking to, pressing toward eternal life forever with God without suffering, sin, sorrow, tears, pain or separation.

Why does Paul consider this one thing and not three things? I believe he refers to this combination of actions as “one thing” because they must all be happening together–in concert. Reaching forward is just how the press toward the goal is initiated. The reach turns into the press as we gain momentum and neither the reaching nor the pressing can happen unless we forget the things behind, things which cling to us and threaten to hold us back, and move our focus onto what lies ahead. Once free from the past and reaching out toward what lies ahead, which will be different for every believer, we are moving, toward God. As we catch His scent or spy the train of His robe, we are energized to press toward the prize–toward what every breath has been leading to since we took our first one. Toward God.

May this one thing that Paul speaks of be the one thing you do as well!

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Handling fear is a subject that we can always study more because it continues to plague us as new circumstances arise and new seasons of life come upon us. Given the pervasive nature of fear and the number of times the Bible mentions it, we do well to consider more of what God wants to teach us about fear and fighting fear.

On the nature of fear . . .

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

The love of God for us is perfect love. When we walk in the love of God, in fellowship with Him, abiding in His word and living by His Spirit, we can experience a life free of fear. In our relationship with God, our love for Him is expressed by our trust in God and His promises to us. Therefore, in fellowship and consistent relationship with God, torment must flee and the Spirit of God brings us peace, the peace that passes understanding.

On why we shouldn’t fear . . .

Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Matthew 10:26

Sometimes we are fearful because we think the truth about us or others will not come out, and we will be judged by the lies the enemy has been spreading about us or those we love. But we don’t need to worry because God will bring truth to the forefront. Nothing will be kept hidden.

Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32 (Jesus speaking)

Often we spend our time fearful because of concerns about the future–will I have enough money, food, time? We all worry about different areas in which we might be lacking in the future, but the truth is that God loves to provide for His children. He knows what we lack, and He will provide in His perfect time according to His perfect will. Knowing and believing that will bring us freedom from fear.

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. Isaiah 26:3

Without fear, it is possible to have peace. With God, we have a remedy for fear. Look to Jesus, author and finisher of our faith. Focus on what God has done, is doing and will do. Knowing and trusting God is the way to lasting peace and freedom from fear.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus . . . look full in His wonder face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

 

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What does the future hold? . . . What if I get Covid-19? . . . How will I keep my house without a job? . . . What will I do if my spouse gets ill and can’t work? . . . What if my spouse leaves me? . . . What if no one loves me? . . . Who will help me when I get older? . . . How will my child make it in the world? . . . What’s that noise upstairs? . . . Who’s at the door at this time of night?

Big and small, fears are our constant companions. Fear is a universal of the human condition. We all have fears. Perhaps that is why the Bible mentions fear and commands us not to fear so many times.

We can learn some important things from the Bible about fear:

  • There is only One to fear
    In Matthew 10:28, Jesus tells us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
  • Fear not because God is with you 
    “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Behold, all those who were incensed against you Shall be ashamed and disgraced; They shall be as nothing, And those who strive with you shall perish. You shall seek them and not find them-Those who contended with you. Those who war against you Shall be as nothing, As a nonexistent thing. For I, the LORD your God, will hold your right hand, Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” Isaiah 41:10-13
  • Don’t fear because God will not leave you
    “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6

Fight fear with the Word of God. It helps to be in the Bible daily, studying and meditating on what God has said. When you are afraid, remind yourself what God has said. If others around you are afraid, remind them of what God has said. Also remember that God cannot lie. What He promises, He will do! He is faithful.

 

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1 Halleluyah!

How happy is anyone who fears Adonai, who greatly delights in his mitzvot.

2 His descendants will be powerful on earth, a blessed generation of upright people.
3 Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness stands forever.

4 To the upright he shines like a light in the dark, merciful, compassionate and righteous.
5 Things go well with the person who is merciful and lends, who conducts his affairs with fairness;
6 for he will never be moved. The righteous will be remembered forever.

7 He will not be frightened by bad news; he remains steady, trusting in Adonai.
8 His heart is set firm, he will not be afraid, till finally he looks in triumph at his enemies.
9 He distributes freely, he gives to the poor; his righteousness stands forever. His power will be increased honorably.
10 The wicked will be angry when they see this; they will gnash their teeth and waste away,
the desires of the wicked will come to nothing. Complete Jewish Bible

Sometimes I can imagine myself just resting in the words of a psalm, basking in the beauty of what the psalmist is describing. Psalm 112, starting with a wonderful Hallelujah, is a great hammock in which to swing under the shade of a well-watered, leafy tree near a spring in a place like En Gedi or Banias. As you swing back and forth in a steady rhythm and feel the breezes blow over, you can be reminded of all the good that comes to the man or woman who fears G-d and delights in his mitzvot or commands.

  • They will be powerful and they will come into their power in ways that are honorable;
  • They will be bless and righteous in their ways;
  • They will be wealthy and successful and fair;
  • They will be generous with what they acquire, helping those in need;
  • They will be an encouragement to the others who are upright;
  • The wicked will be greatly annoyed by them, but nothing will come of their hatred, plotting or scheming.

It is a beautiful picture–what a wonder this G-d of ours! He is good, good, good! His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

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Two mountains which figure prominently in the Bible when taken together, represent the character of God. One mountain is characterized by a consuming fire. On that mountain, God displayed His judgment and His holiness. The other mountain is characterized by blood and sacrifice. On that mountain, God displayed His consuming love and mercy.

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai is the backdrop for Israel’s receipt of the Law. Sinai is where God met Moses and is primarily characterized by fire:

  • Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. Exodus 19:18
  • The sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel. Exodus 24:17
  • Then you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. Deuteronomy 4:11
  • The LORD talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. Deuteronomy 5:4
  • Then the LORD delivered to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly. Deuteronomy 9:10

Mount Zion

The other mountain is Mount Zion (found within the land given to the tribe of Judah). Mt. Zion was sometimes called The City of David, and descriptions of Mt. Zion paint a very different picture from those describing Mt. Sinai:

  • Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old, The tribe of Your inheritance, which You have redeemed-This Mount Zion where You have dwelt. Psalm 74:2
  • But chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved. Psalm 78:68
    Those who trust in the LORD Are like Mount Zion, Which cannot be moved, but abides forever. Psalm 125:1
  • And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls. Joel 2:32
  • Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads. Revelation 14:1

Paul makes the case for the two mountains in his letter to the Hebrews:

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. . . . 

And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. Hebrews 12:18-24

It is the same God of both mountains, so we must keep both mountains in view:

Mount Sinai – where God laid down His law, a place of judgment.
Mount Zion – where God laid down His life, a perfect sacrifice, a place of love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Hear, Isra’el! Adonai our God, Adonai is one.

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Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Matthew 23:27.

In making the above statement, Jesus was accusing the scribes and Pharisees of appearing to be clean on the outside, but inside they were like a grave, full of the bones and carcases of dead men. Touching dead things, e.g. bones and carcases, would render a person ritually unclean–unable to enter the Temple and unable to worship G-d. It was something quite offensive to a religious Jew–the type of men Jesus was confronting.

What was Jesus on about? In the above verse and those which preceded it, He was dealing with the issue of holiness. Jesus was pointing out that holiness was not something to be measured by what could be seen on the outside, but rather it had to be found on the inside. In other words, holiness is not outward compliance with rules and regulations. Holiness is a heart transformed, desiring to go G-d’s way. For the truly holy man or woman, no outward rules are required. The genuine desire to please, obey, and maintain fellowship with G-d will keep one from evil. The Christian, in contrast to theJew, has few outward restraints on his or her conduct. The restraint evidenced in the life of a Christian is borne out of personal relationship with G-d.

May your heart be transformed so that you require no outward rules to make or keep you holy, but only a desire to please the heart of the Father, a love for the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.

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