Mercy, Peace, and Repentance

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And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:76-79

John the Baptist’s father Zechariah is prophesying over his newborn son about the Baptist’s ministry. That the Baptist was the forerunner of the messiah who prepared the way before him is something any Bible literate person knows. That his ministry and message were noticeably similar to the prophets of old may not be so familiar, but what stood out to me is why. John was called to raise awareness of the need for salvation and the availability of it via the forgiveness of sins. Indeed, the central message of John’s ministry—and Christ’s own first sermons—was to repent, to strive to cease doing evil and replace it with good.

On the lips of believers today, the message of repentance that God spoke through Jesus, John, and the Old Testament prophets of old is condemned as hateful, legalistic, intolerant, and divisive by the world and Christians taken captive by the world. If we don’t consider what John the Baptist actually preached, we can miss here what giving people knowledge of salvation and forgiveness of sins looked like for John. If we do, we’ll also miss the reason God gives here for sending John to preach, “you’re going to burn unless you forsake your evil ways, come to the water of repentance and new life, and get your sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb.”

God cites his motives for sending out anyone to preach repentance being not judgment, hatred, and division, but the loving, compassionate mercy that brings us the literal sunrise and the “Sunrise” of Jesus, who came to offer the light of life and truth to those dying in the darkness of sin (all of us at one time.) Not only that, this message calls everyone to forsake the sin that truly brings division and warring and let God grow his righteousness in us.

At the same time, those who are in the light cannot live fully at peace with those in the darkness. We can try to respectfully work and live in harmony with those who don’t have God’s grace at work in them and aren’t repentant and allowing God to change their ways, but that will inevitably become like unequally yoked oxen. The strong oxen pulls the weak oxen the way the strong wants to go. If the captive to sin can accept working with us within our boundaries, that’s one thing. More often, though, we will be the ones who forsake seeking to please God and instead seek to please the world, often on excuses of love, peace, duty, or evangelism. True, there will be times when holding true to your convictions will bring strife and division no matter how respectful and kind you are about it, but that’s why the Bible adds “as much as lies within you” to “live at peace with all men.”

Peace with God should be our number one priority. Anything less is idolatry and spiritual adultery. God wants there to be peace on Earth and good will between humans, too, and it breaks his heart when people who live in darkness forsake him and they or the circumstances demand that we choose between their way and God’s way and hence between living at peace with God and living at peace with them. It should break ours, too, but God still requires to be first place in our lives. Remember, Jesus himself warned us that following him would separate us from the world and bring strife and animosity between the adopted children God has freed from our former bondage and those still enslaved to sin and the evil one.

Lord, give us the wisdom, discernment, and grace we need to walk in your ways and repent of evil. Give us the courage to hold fast to the beliefs and convictions you have taught us from your word. Help us to be respectful, kind, and sincerely seek the best interests of all people, including our enemies. Teach us how to deal with unbelievers and other captives to sin peaceably as much as lies within us, but without compromising to please man and returning in any degree to the slavery you’ve saved us out of. We pray also that we would not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that we would do the work of the Kingdom boldly, in whatever way the Holy Spirit has sincerely called, empowered, and equipped us to labor.

Feeling Defeated? Rest in the Conquering King

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“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)

Troubled? Christ tells us we can turn to his speech in John 14-16 any time and receive comfort and peace from knowing the Father himself loves us and that someday he will bring us out of our present sorrow and deliver us to joy. He promises us hardship and trouble and travail in this life and that the unbelieving world will hate us if we are truly walking with Him, and has indeed often killed the saints, and many do so thinking they do God service as Jesus said.

But we are to take heart: he has overcome the world. Victory is secured for us. Keep holding the line, keep walking the walk. Stay the course. The battle rages on, but no matter what its outcome, the war is already won.  Let us abide in Christ and rest in Him. Let him fight the battle. Trust and obey him. He’s the conquering king and his enemies are defeated and routed, including the sin or the fallen condition you are struggling with, and even the great enemy, death itself, has been mortally wounded and will be only a distant memory sooner than it seems as we struggle in this life.

Turn your eyes to Christ’s cross and His empty grave and be encouraged, brothers and sisters. It is finished. God has prevailed and He will prevail in your life if you do not lose heart and desert him for his already defeated foe. So put away doubting, put away your own understanding, and trust in Him today.  Give to him any weight that hinders you from trusting him, be it sorrow, be it hurt, be it anger, be it the trust others have broken, and any nay-saying voice, be it real or imagined.  Confess it, express it, but release it into His victorious hands.

 

Secret to True Christian Harmony

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“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6)

Longing for peace and harmony in your relationships? This blessing in Romans points us to the only source of reconciliation: Jesus. It starts with prayer, filling up on encouragement and endurance from the Lord, opening up to his power to bring  each of us into accord with him. The more like him each of us grows, the more harmony we will have with one another.

Churches and Christians get in trouble when we start to see harmony as an end unto itself. The end goal of harmonizing is to glory the Lord our God, who does not change. If, for the sake of peace, we sacrifice doctrinal truth and change our message to please those in the church who are held captive by the world, we might have peace, but we’d all be out of harmony with Jesus. Rather than glorifying Christ, we’d be spreading deception.

Thus we must be sure who we are harmonizing with is truly seeking to be in one accord with the Christ Jesus of the Bible. Now, we should be respectful, gentle, and kind in disagreeing with those who choose to believe a lie. We should be sensitive to the Lord’s leading in who we cast our pearls before.

However, in our own lives, we must not back down from where we stand in Christ to please the Marketplace of Ideas Shoppers who toss a few cherry-picked Christian beliefs in their basket along with other cherished beliefs that seem right and feel good to them. Warn them if God leads,  leave them to God’s judgment as convicted to, but don’t let them take you with them for the sake of peace. Our first responsibility is to harmonize (become in accord) with the Lord. If others around us decline to, that is their choice.

Lord, search our hearts. If we have any beliefs not in harmony with who you are, reveal them to us by your holy spirit. By your grace, grant us the strength to cast off anything that is not of you. Encourage us to endurance, seeking to live in peace, for the purpose of glorifying you with all of your people. We pray we would find peace and harmony as we your people draw closer to the truth and walk in your ways. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Heaven’s Wisdom Versus the Serpent’s Wisdom

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“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18)

The immediate context includes verses 13-16, which tell us, if I understand them correctly:

  • Quietly let your wisdom and understanding be evident in how you conduct yourself, enduring injury with patience and without resentment (Thank you m-w.com.)
  • Do not boast of being such while deceitfully hiding in your heart an attitude of hostility toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage and ambitions that put yourself first and further your own personal gain at the expense of others.
  • It is the world and Satan/demons that tells us that is wise, not God.
  • The presence of hostility toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage and ambitions that put yourself first and further your own personal gain at the expense of others in a group leads to disruption and immoral actions of all sorts.

Our verse of the day tells us, instead of walking in the wisdom of the world and getting caught up in the strife this dog-eat-dog me-first attitude brings, we should seek, by God’s grace, to act wisely as he defines it:  being free from moral fault or guilt (not sinning, but doing what we know is right), not being contentious or quarrelsome,  speaking softly, not harshly, being willing  to hear an explanation, showing mercy and the other fruits of the spirit, avoiding playing favorites by treating everyone the same, and being genuine and honest all at the same time.

For such wise efforts at making peace, we are promised we shall peacefully increase in righteousness. This may be an inference to how often spiritual growth comes instead through trial and hardship.

One thing in particular stands out to me about this list. It is not often that I find both a commitment to purity and speaking sincerely and the rest of the items on the list in the same person; the old struggle to balance truth and love again. Yet James considers purity and sincerity the bookends to qualities that purity and sincerity are often sacrificed in the name of, upping the ante and issuing a challenge to all of us.

Lord, we are glad this is wisdom that comes from you, because we are weak and that is a tall order we cannot rise to in our own flesh. Strengthen us to walk in your spirit and keep a proper balance. Show us today where we are weakest and any practical steps you would have us take to grow–and grant us by your grace  the courage, strength,  and will to follow through. Remind us and reveal to us what your priorities are for us this day and let us strive for the goal you have for us, for your glory and the edification of your people. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

 

Unload, unwind, chill out, God-style.

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“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Life is a battle. We know what we should do, but so often we end up dragging around with us a garbage bag full of fears, anxieties, and hurts, seeking to distract ourselves from the load and smile and pretend everything is okay. Then we frown in confusion, where is the joy of the Lord? Where is the peace of God? Where is the victory? We feel guilty for not praying more. We feel guilty for not reading the bible more.

And you know what most of us do? We chuck all that guilt in the garbage bag and make it all that much more of a drag. Step one–humbly confess our weaknesses and failings to God and ask him for help with them. Step two–trustingly brace yourself for impact. God’s move can sometimes feel like an earthquake, but he knows what we can bear and knows what is best for us.

Lord, many of us have not been consistent in prayer and bible study. Many of us have not been consistent in you. Change our priorities today. Remind us to seek first the kingdom and all these things will be added unto us. Encourage our hearts gently to keep an open door and open ear to you as we go about our days. Remind us, whenever the enemy hands us garbage, to immediately hand it over to you rather than bagging it and carrying it around with us. Grant us the peace, Lord, that will guard our hearts and our minds. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.