Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading The Bible

The following is an edited version of a letter I sent to a group of men I meet with on a weekly basis. In addition to my thoughts below, this link to a piece by Justin Taylor is quite helpful

Dear Friends,

It’s that time of year again, we’re running out of days in one year and preparing to begin a new year with blank calendar pages – or at the very least with the promise of the unknown invading our lives from time to time. Many of us are saying, “Where did the year go?” Likely most of us don’t take time to answer the question.  The more time-saving devices we have the less time we have – can someone please explain that?
This morning I was reminded of the words of Jesus to our Father, “For their sakes I sanctity Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth,” (John 17:19). The word “sanctify” has a double meaning – to be set apart and to be holy. The person who is holy is set apart to the Lord, and the person who is truly set apart to the Lord is holy. The primary designation for followers of Jesus Christ in the New Testament is “saints”, which could also be translated “holy ones”. Christians are to be set apart to Jesus Christ and in being set apart (dedicated) to Jesus Christ they are to be holy. This designation appears around sixty times in the New Testament.
Jesus also says to the Father, “Sanctity them in the truth, Your word is truth,” (John 17:17).  In Ephesians 5:25 – 27 Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify and cleanse her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” We are sanctified by the Word, we are cleansed by the Word, we are set apart by the Word; but just as our flesh needs to have actual contact with water to cleanse our bodies, so our hearts and minds and souls and spirits require actual contact with the Word of God for us to experience cleansing, holiness, and maturity in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” Hebrews 4:12.
In a world spiraling downward and out-of-control, descending into darkness, our generation desperately needs a church washed and cleansed and made holy by the Word of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus set Himself apart for our sakes, will we set ourselves apart for the sake of others?
We can only follow Jesus as we obey His word, and we can only obey His word in maturity as we know His word. Jesus says, “He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him,” John 14:21. How can we keep His commandments if we don’t know them? How can His word wash us if we don’t have contact with it? How can we be blessings to others if we are not set apart, dedicated, to our Lord Jesus?
I have attached the New Testament reading schedule that I sent out for 2015 in the hope that some of us will continue to read the New Testament on a daily basis.
There are many other fine schedules of Bible reading available on the Internet, including those which will guide you through the entire Bible in one year, two years, and three years. I do think that it is important to read the New Testament through each year for it contains the life and words of our Lord Jesus, the history of the early church, and the teachings of the Apostles and their associates.
I thought about also providing a schedule of Old Testament readings but decided instead to make a couple of suggestions.
1.    Read one Psalm a day. When you come to Psalm 119 split it up, or if you come to another Psalm that is quite long split it up. When you’ve traveled through Psalms pick up Proverbs (some folks read a chapter of Proverbs every day throughout the year – it’s filled with practical wisdom for daily living).
2.    Select a section of the Old Testament and read through that during the year. Or read in one section during the first quarter, another in the second quarter, etc. This way you will have read in various sections of the Old Testament by year-end. An example: in the first quarter you might read Isaiah and Jeremiah (Major Prophets); in the second quarter 1 & 2 Samuel (history); in the third quarter Exodus and Deuteronomy (the Pentateuch); in the fourth quarter Job and Song of Solomon (wisdom and poetry). Don’t be in a rush, get to know the landscape.
I have one suggestion that I’d like you to please consider: select a New Testament book and really get to know it during the year. Read it, read it again, read it again in different translations, ponder it, use it as a prayer guide, let it soak into your soul. If you select a short book like Colossians you may find that within a few months you’re ready to move on to a new book, maybe another short book like Philippians, if that is the case then great, but continue to revisit Colossians. Make the NT book your home for a year, let it become your friend, allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you throughout the year through the NT book you select.
The LORD said through Hosea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” (Hosea 4:6a). The prophet Amos (8:11) wrote this, “Behold, days are coming declares the LORD God, when I will send a famine on the land, nor a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the LORD.”
In these tumultuous times anything that diverts our attention from the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word is a distraction, we can live life caught up in the headlines of the day or we can live life rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ and His Word – if we choose to navigate by the weathervane of current events we will have no certain center of gravity and be of little use to anyone; if we fix our eyes on Jesus and live in His Word then we have a sure anchor of the soul and can live lives of sacrificial service to others. Jesus teaches that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake and the Gospels, the same will save it. We can show others a better way, the Way of Jesus.

Much, much love - Bob

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Yet Another Non-Christian Email Sent By A Christian

Below is a response I wrote to a Christian who sent me yet another email about Muslims. This man and I are supposed to meet and discuss the issue of how we should respond to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and what our posture toward Muslims should be. I suggested we meet rather than attempt to share our thoughts via email, however, his recent email elicited my response below - I felt I needed to say something. 

Jesus was not mentioned in the email he sent. That is true for every email someone sends me attacking Muslims, or Americans who they don't agree with politically. If Jesus isn't our center of gravity then what is the point for the Christian? This poison has infiltrated the professing church to the place where many Christians are not known for following Jesus but rather for following political agendas. We have lost our heavenly identity and by doing so have become no earthly good - that is, we cannot bring the perspective of our Lord Jesus Christ to the conversation because we no longer know the Scriptures or the Spirit of our Lord, we are like James and John wanting to call down fire from heaven on those with whom we disagree. Jesus told them that they didn't know of what spirit they were - such is the sad case of a significant element of the professing church in the US.

I face this temptation regularly, and I must choose Jesus, I must put Him first and last - Jesus and only Jesus. 

Dear Friend,

I read what you sent, but I don't see anything about Jesus, about sharing the Gospel, about loving our enemies, about dying for Jesus Christ. This is our calling. And as for the reference to Armageddon, well...perhaps we had better think about how we should live in the midst of a chaotic world, amidst persecution - we are called to lay our lives down (Romans 8:36 and many other places). 

Anything that distracts us from living in Jesus Christ, anything that distracts us from sharing the Gospel, that is what we ought to fear...and right now many professing Christians are not fearing the Lord, they are playing into man-made fears. 

You see, evil is evil, in whatever form it takes - and we have enough evil here without importing it...but as long as the domestic evil doesn't bother us we tend to look the other way.

And then if our God is sovereign, then perhaps we should pay attention to what He is doing - the prophets make it clear that our Lord rules over the affairs of men and that He uses nations to judge nations - we have seen this in the book of Judges [note to blog reader, our men's group is studying Judges], but it appears even more strongly in the prophets. Jeremiah was thrown in prison and then in a well when he pointed out to the king of Judah that God was judging the nation for its sins - since to whom much is given much is required perhaps we should pause and consider our national sins and the great light of the Gospel that we have rejected.

But my main point in all of this is that I don't see Jesus. We are Christians before we are anything and our call is not to kill for Jesus but to die for Jesus and others, and that includes our enemies.

The Early Church brought their enemies to Christ. There is not one instance that I'm aware of when the Early Church retaliated against its enemies. There is not one passage in the New Testament that counsels that we retaliate against our enemies (I'm not talking about the state, I'm talking about the church).

Why is it that professing believers in the United States think they deserve a free pass when it comes to persecution? We have brothers and sisters throughout the world suffering for the Gospel, but as long as it stays across the oceans we tend not to be concerned.

It is about Jesus, always about Jesus. If our lives are filled with fear and hate and vitriol we will not be prepared when we are faced with major decisions for we will have become conditioned not to love, not to lay our lives down, but to preserve ourselves and our things. 

The conversation should not be about Islam, that is a distraction, it should be about Jesus and sharing Him with all peoples - that is the Great Commission, that is our mandate. How can we demonstrate the love of God to Muslims and all others - Jesus died for them, will we?

Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20...and other passages). 

If I say that I will die for Jesus, then I must also say that as Christian I will not kill for Jesus.

Much love...looking forward to our conversation,

Sunday, December 13, 2015

No More Fear

My friend Bill wrote the following and sent it to me. This is the Bill who occasionally gives me excerpts from his prayer journal to post. As I read this the irony struck me that he found eternal life on the grounds of a funeral home - in a place of death he found life. Isn't that the Gospel? The women went to the tomb on Easter morning expecting to find death but they found life. 

No More Fear of Dying

Growing up, I was taught about Heaven and Hell so I knew that good people went to Heaven and bad people went to Hell.  I believed that I was a bad person and was going to Hell.  What I didn’t know, as Paul Harvey would say, was “the rest of the story.”  I hope and pray that the following will help others know that God is a loving and caring Father.

For 38 years of my life I did not like myself because I believed that God did not love me since I was a sinner.  Many times I would ask God to forgive me and then would go right back and commit the sins all over again.  There were times when I should have gone to jail for the things I did.  When I got away with them, I would tell myself that I was lucky.  What I did not realized at the time was that “luck” had nothing to do with it.  It would be much later in my life’s journey before I would realize this.

During our Thursday night Bible study recently, we were asked to read Hebrews 2:14-15 which says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” [NIV]

When I read these verses, it all came back to me:  the memory of being consumed with the fear of death.  I was that person they were talking about in these two verses.

I remembered back to the day and time when my life would change forever and the fear of death was gone.

My wife had died and I had two small children.  I was so overwhelmed by everything and I had no one to turn to for help.  I was sitting in my office crying and begging God to help me when I remembered something:  I had gone to a Needle’s Eye luncheon and heard someone talking about accepting Jesus as his Savior and how it changed his life.  At the time, I thought to myself, “Whatever!  Another feel-good story.”  I was given something with a prayer inside showing me what to say if I wanted Jesus in my life.  When I got back to my office, I put it in my desk drawer and went on with my life.

On this day, however, I opened that drawer and there was the pamphlet with that prayer in it.  I thought to myself, “Well, I have tried everything else.  Why not this prayer?”  I went over to the grounds of the funeral home that was next to my office and sat down under a tree and recited the prayer, asking Jesus to be my Savior.  I was crying. At that moment Jesus became my Savior.

For the first time in my life, I had “HOPE”!  My sins were forgiven and I knew He loved me.  For many years I had bought and paid for friends and now I realized that I always had had a friend in Jesus and it did not cost me anything.

All those times when I got away with doing something wrong (sin) and told myself that I was lucky – I realized that luck had nothing to do with it.  God was there and He had a plan for my life and He was just waiting for me to open that door so my Savior could take control of my life.  Once I accepted Jesus as my Savior, did all my problems go away?  NO!!!  But, He was there to help me through them.  Did I stop sinning?  NO!!  But for the first time in my life, I knew with His help and by letting Him have control, sin no longer controlled me.  I knew that God would forgive me and love me no matter what.  Jesus paid the price for my sins and that day, on the lawn of the funeral home, the Holy Spirit entered into my heart.

When I looked in the mirror before I met Jesus, I hated the person looking back at me.  When I look in the mirror now, I like that person looking back at me because I know God loves me. 

My life is no longer a slave to death.  When I asked Jesus to be my Savior, the chains of slavery to death were gone and I knew that I was a child of a loving and forgiving God.

Thank You, Jesus, for all of the pain and suffering that You went through in order that I would have eternal life with You and my heavenly Father.

Now you know “the rest of the story.”

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 9

Now I want us to explore what the book of Proverbs has to teach us about peace and anger. You mentioned the other night how much you enjoy the book of James; if you enjoy James you’ll enjoy Proverbs, for not only is James replete with practical instruction as is Proverbs, but we’ll find an emphasis in Proverbs on the tongue and anger and peace just as we do in James.

I’m going to start our reflections in Proverbs Chapter Ten and see where our journey takes us – let’s walk among these chapters and reflect on them, just as we would walk among the trees in a forest and note their shapes and characteristics.

“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life…” (10:11a).

“Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise. The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver, the heart of the wicked is worth little. The lips of the righteous feed many…” (10:19 – 21a).

As we read this counsel, are we reminded of James Chapter Three?

There is a connection between the heart and the words we speak, a connection that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 12:33 – 37: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless (useless, wasted) word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgement. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Again, are we reminded of James Chapter Three when hearing these words of Jesus?

Not everything that grows in our vegetable garden at home are things that we planted; we are constantly removing weeds from our garden. Not everything that grows in our hearts are things which the Lord Jesus planted, there are weeds to be pulled daily, weeds which our enemy and the world attempt to plant in our lives. If we allow weeds to grow into fruit-bearing plants, the fruit they bear will poison our hearts and consequently our speech, with the result that rather than our words being a fountain of life to the people around us, they become the bitter water of which James writes and the evil that Jesus speaks of. When we consider that we are the sons and daughters of the living God, speech that is the result of poison fruit is particularly egregious – because we are not living and speaking as who we are in Christ, but rather like people who do not live in Him.

What does the writer mean by, “Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise”? When we talk without thinking, without considering whether our words will bring edification and understanding to those around us, we will sin against others and against God by putting ourselves at the center of the universe – we will speak to satisfy ourselves; it can be to satisfy our anger, our pride, to control others, to release tension and stress; but whatever the reason, when we fail to submit our hearts and speech to our Lord Jesus and instead engage in a torrential flow of words, we cannot help but at some point to transgress because we make ourselves the reference point for all that we say…we place ourselves on the throne.

“The lips of the righteous feed many…” Jesus says that the words He speaks are spirit and life (John 6:63). Since Jesus says, “Even as the Father sent me, so send I you,” our words should also be life and spirit. As Jesus feeds us with His words, we are to feed others with the words we speak as we live in intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

While this has always been a challenge to mankind, it is a particular challenge in this age of instant communication. In the midst of communication bombardment it is all too easy to allow fast-growing weeds to feed our speech and our writing – our minds cannot easily process the volume of communication that many of us experience, we cannot adequately reflect on what we hear and read; the result is that we send a constant flow of verbal and written communication to others that is often not thought out – its source is not considered, we feed others the fruit of poisonous weeds rather than the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). The popularity of “rants” is just one indicator that our speech and thinking has regressed to the infant stage.

How many people will our lips feed today? What will we feed them? Will it be anger? Will it be peace?

"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 8

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:4-7, NKJV].

Before we leave our reflections on this passage there is one other facet of the text I’d like to draw our attention to: “through Christ Jesus,” or as the NASB and NIV translate it, “in Christ Jesus.” Paul is writing to Christians; he is writing to people who are living in a relationship with Jesus Christ. This may appear to be an obvious point that does not need to be mentioned but in this age of self-help, and especially Christian self-help, I think we need to recognize that the obvious is no longer obvious. The purpose of Paul’s letter is not to make life better for his readers, it is not to teach them how to have peace of mind, it is not to teach them positive and happy thinking – the purpose of Paul’s letter is to guide his readers in their relationship with Jesus Christ. We are to live in Christ and with Christ and through Christ and out of Christ and into Christ – this is the language of the New Testament. When we abide in (live in, make our home in) Jesus Christ His life flows through us (see John Chapter 15). The peace of God that Paul writes of in Philippians guards our hearts and minds “in Christ Jesus.”

Our society talks of “compartmentalization.” We segregate areas of life in order to manage them. We have work life, family life, community life, religious life, political life, recreational life, entertainment life, and so forth. We are actors changing roles and costumes according to the stage we are on – there is no longer one grand stage of life, most of us are playing little theater on little stages. The Bible knows nothing of compartmentalized thinking and living, for the stage of the Bible is not just big, it is cosmic. The Biblical test of a person is not compartmentalization but holistic integration in Jesus Christ. When the Hebrews spoke of shalom it was not a compartmentalized peace but rather a holistic peace, a holistic wholeness, a holistic health, a holistic holiness; that was bestowed by Yahweh, lived in Yahweh, and lived unto Yahweh. I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 11:36, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”   

If we seek peace apart from Jesus we will not find it; if we seek peace apart from following Jesus in all of life we will not find it. If the peace we seek is the equivalent of a therapy to make us feel good, if it is a commodity to be consumed in doses as we need it – we will not find it.  If we compartmentalize life and think that we can be obedient to Jesus Christ in some areas and not in others, our disobedience will hinder the holistic peace of Jesus Christ in our lives. Paul is writing to disciples; he is writing to people who are suffering for Jesus Christ; he is writing to people in a city where Paul himself was once imprisoned with Silas, and Paul writes to the Philippians as a prisoner. Paul is writing from a city in which he is a prisoner to Christians in a city where he was once a prisoner. When Paul and Silas were prisoners in Philippi they were miraculously set free (Acts 16); such is not the case in his Roman imprisonment, in fact, he likely writes after years of imprisonment. Yet Paul writes, “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content,” (Philippians 4:11). When Paul writes about “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding,” he is writing about his own experience in Jesus Christ.

I think the phrase “in Christ Jesus,” and its equivalents, may be the most important phrase in the Bible, for it roots our life in Christ, and in rooting our life it roots our thinking, our heart, our soul, and our body. As Jesus says, “…without me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5).

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Which Lens?

Why do we read the Bible through the lens of religious tradition rather than view religious tradition through the Bible?

Countless times in Bible studies I’ve witnessed us interpreting the Bible through tradition and things we’ve been told, rather than encountering the Biblical text as it is written. It is as if we don’t really “read” the text because we already know what it means, we already know what is important. Rather than allowing the Bible to transform us into the image of Christ, we attempt to form the Bible into our image.

Oh how I wish someone had taught me to read the Bible when I was a young Christian.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 7

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:4-7].

Rejoicing in the Lord always, living in gentleness toward all, recognizing the presence of Christ, living in conversation with God born out of relationship with God – this all leads to the peace of God (which is beyond our understanding) guarding our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

I previously wrote that in a sense we have the opportunity to relive the Garden of Eden each new day of our lives, we can choose to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; or we can choose, by God’s grace, to eat from the Tree of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ. In another sense we can choose, by God’s grace, to live in the New Jerusalem each new day – for in the New Jerusalem we see not the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but only the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:1-4). In a third sense we live between the Garden of Eden and the New Jerusalem, we are on pilgrimage from one to the other. We have left a high place (the Garden), have fallen from that place, but are now in Christ traveling to a higher place (the New Jerusalem) – see Hebrews 11:10, 15, 16; 12:18 - 24.

The peace of God surpasses all understanding, we don’t comprehend it, it just doesn’t make sense. This peace comes not from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it comes from our Lord Jesus, the Tree of Life. This peace is not born of earth, it is rooted in the joy and certainty of heaven. Some people think that when Paul writes that the peace of God surpasses all understanding that he means that it surpasses what the mind that does not know Christ can understand (see 1 Corinthians Chapter Two for insight into the difference between the mind that knows Christ and the mind that doesn’t). These folks think that the mind that knows Christ can understand the peace of God.

For sure the mind that does not know Christ cannot experience the peace of God; while the mind that knows Christ can experience God’s peace. But Paul is not using a word that means experience, he is not using a heart word, he is using a head word; and so I think that Paul, in the midst of his own imprisonment, is saying what many Christians have come to know in the their minds and experience in both their hearts and minds – that the peace of God is so other worldly and so transcendent that we cannot comprehend it, we cannot understand it, we cannot (to use a current expression) “wrap our minds around it.” The peace of God does not make sense. It does not make sense to experience overwhelming peace in the midst of adversity and pain and persecution – it doesn’t make earthly sense, and while it does make heavenly sense because of who our Father is, because of who Jesus is, because of who the Holy Spirit is – we still can’t comprehend it. We know it is so because of who God is, we know Jesus the Prince of Peace lives within us and envelops us in Himself – but we do not understand how this can be because it is so other than we are – and yet praise God – it is who we are becoming in Christ Jesus!

I’m making a point of this because the peace of God is one of the most supernatural experiences (to take the risk of using comparative language) that a Christian can know because it is a contradiction of natural-earthly circumstances – it is an acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord and that this present age does not have the final word on the meaning of our circumstances. The peace of God guarding our hearts and minds is the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace establishing itself within us and building ramparts around its territory – around our hearts and minds. This is why Paul will follow in verses 8 – 9 with an exhortation to holy thinking and holy living – we do not want to dismantle our defenses, we want to continually strengthen them.

The world tempts us to retaliate, the enemy wants us to rationalize retribution and justify violating the peace of God. “If someone does something harmful to me then it is only right that I respond by escalating the conflict,” is the way of the age. Unholy anger is the world’s ballistic missile. Yet Jesus proclaims in the Sermon on the Mount that He is bringing a Kingdom to the planet with an entirely different trajectory, it is upward and not downward – it is intent on building and not destroying – the idea of “mutual assured destruction” is foreign to the Kingdom of God. The laws and principles of the heavenly land in which we live are different than the principles and laws of the earthly land upon which we live – the laws and principles of the heavenly land are eternal, the laws and principles of the earthly land are temporal.

When we experience the peace of God that passes all understanding we taste our heavenly home – right now, right here, in the midst of circumstances that shout, “How can you be at peace! How can you not have worry and anxiety!”

One of the properties I manage is a housing cooperative here in Virginia. However, even though the cooperative is located in Virginia, it was incorporated in Maryland; therefore while it must comply with Virginia laws for a foreign corporation, it must also be governed by Maryland’s law regarding housing cooperatives. The people living in the housing cooperative live in Virginia but are (at least in part) governed by Maryland law – especially Maryland housing cooperative law. God’s people may live on the earth, they may live in the world, they may live in the midst of the spirit of the age – but they are not governed by the things of earth and are not to subject themselves to the spirit of the age. The peace of God is to rule us (Colossians 3:15) and that peace is not of the world (John 14:27) – this is the peace we are called to, an other-worldly peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding…keeping our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 6

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:4-7].

In a world powered by anxiety the counsel to “be anxious for nothing” sounds insane and beyond possibility and those who exhibit a lack of anxiety are often considered na├»ve and unrealistic, living in their own little worlds, or “happy places”. But Paul is not recommending escapism in the sense of living in a fictitious or delusional state of mind, but he is rather counseling his readers to live lives connected to God, and therefore to the reality which reveals the world for what it is – delusional and fictitious.  The world is fictitious in the sense that its claim to be the highest reality, its claim to be all that there is, is a lie and a delusion which leads to death and separation from God.

Early in Jesus’ ministry He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than clothing?...Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?...Do not worry then…But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” [Matthew 6:24 – 34].

Paul wrote his words in prison; Jesus spoke His words to an audience living under the dominion of Roman conquerors – indeed, it had been centuries since Galilee and Judah had enjoyed independence, living under Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman authority. How can Paul write to “be anxious for nothing”? How can Jesus say “do not be worried about your life”? Are these irresponsible teachings? Are they unrealistic? Are they an invitation to disaster?

What is our focus in life? What is our North Star?

Paul writes “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”. We are to live in continuous conversation with God – this conversation includes thanksgiving, it includes our requests, and it includes persistent petition. Perhaps most of all, the conversation is the result of relationship, a relationship in which God discloses Himself to us and we disclose ourselves to God (from a human perspective, for of course He knows all there is to know of us – but do we know? Of course we don’t.)

Jesus says, “Do not worry then…But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Paul tells us to live in conversation with God; Jesus teaches us to seek God’s kingdom; both Jesus and Paul are talking to us, in part, about focus – where is our focus? Our heart will follow our focus.

Earlier in Matthew Chapter 6, leading up to His words about worry, Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light…” [Matthew 6:19 – 23].

If we are evaluating life based on the world’s standards, if our eyes are seeing things through the world’s lenses, then we will have reason enough for worry and anxiety and we will be motivated to overcome that anxiety and worry by the ways of the world. But if, however, our focus is the Kingdom of God, and if live in relationship with God, then we view life through the lenses of God’s Word by the light of the Holy Spirit.

In a sense we are all in lifeboats in the cold waters of the Atlantic. We can move our lifeboats in one of two directions; one direction is toward the sinking Titanic, the other is toward the rescue ship Carpathia. This world, this age, is sinking…it has been sinking for a long time and eventually, perhaps suddenly, it will be engulfed in the ocean never to be seen again. Everything we were impressed with on the Titanic will be gone – whether we were in First Class or were on the bottom of the passenger list – rich and poor, small and great – all that impressed us will be gone – whether we dined at the captain’s table or ate leftovers below decks – it will all be gone…and if we stay with the Titanic we will be gone with it.

The Carpathia offers rescue and hope. Is it escapism to row to the Carpathia? Or is it salvation? To remain in the lifeboat is not an option – those who remain will die – they will either be sucked under the waters by the Titanic or they will freeze to death.

Jesus offers us His peace (John 14:27) in a relationship with the Trinity. He offers us Himself and His incredible love. Paul can write Philippians in prison because Paul is living in Christ Jesus – Paul has made the transition from the sinking Titanic to the Carpathia.

Living life in the peace of Jesus, or living life in anxiety and anger? The Titanic or the Carpathia? That is my choice, that is your choice, that is our choice. Which direction are we rowing in today?

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 5

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:4-7].

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all…” [2Timothy 2:24a].

Continuing to reflect on this passage (see previous post):

Paul is experiencing harshness, yet he writes of gentleness. There is harshness in prison, there was hardness in the process of going to prison; Paul’s Christian life, on the exterior, has been one of harshness, consider these words of his to the Corinthians 2Cor. 11:23 – 28):

“Are they servants of Christ? – I speak as if insane – I more so, in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” (NASB).

From the time Paul met Jesus Christ until his execution in Rome he was hounded by adversaries bent on his destruction. Some of these adversaries were Pharisees he had once known as friends and colleagues, others were professing Christians. Paul was persecuted by those both within and without the professing church – he was attacked on all sides and from within. In addition dealing with these attacks he also had the “daily pressure…of concern for all the churches.” There appears to have been little respite for Paul. And yet he writes, “Let your gentleness be known to all men.” “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all…”

In 2 Corinthians 7:5 Paul writes, “…we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within.”

How do our worst days in the business world compare to the days, the life, that Paul describes in these and other passages? Yet he exhorts us to gentleness and to peace. To the Romans he writes (Romans 12:14 and 18), “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.”

The serpent’s goal in the Garden was to disrupt the relational peace of God and man, and by extension the peace between man and man. It is no small thing that Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful,” (John 14:27). Jesus speaks these words on the night of His betrayal, on the eve of His crucifixion!

The world’s message, and the message often heard and seen in the business community, is that only the strong survive, that retaliation for a wrong is not only acceptable but expected and justified, and that using anger as a weapon (often a weapon of mass destruction) is a sign of a leader. (Perhaps I should reiterate an earlier clarification, that not all anger is sinful and that we are not talking about truly righteous anger which is often the result of witnessing injustice and other sinful behavior).  

In a sense, every new day is a day in the Garden with two central trees, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. Our enemy tells us that if we’ll eat from the former tree that we’ll be as God, that we’ll be in control. There is no gentleness or peace to be found in the first tree, and when we attempt to be in control life spirals out of control. If we desire to be like our heavenly Father and Lord Jesus we must learn to eat of the Tree of Life; Jesus Christ is that Tree and as we partake of Him we are transformed into His image. The enemy misdirects us, his ploy again and again is deceit – when we chase his mirage and drink of his water our mouths are filled with sand – Living Water is only found in the Tree of Life – Jesus Christ.

There is little if anything in life that is cosmically mundane. The observer may have seen little difference between the two central trees of the Garden, they may have looked similar – we don’t know. Or, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil may have surpassed the Tree of Life in appearance – as it often does today. Compare the following:

Genesis 3:6, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.”

Isaiah 53:2, “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, or appearance that we should be attracted to Him.”

Our daily obedience to Jesus Christ in the details of life is not mundane; it shapes our souls for eternity, it influences those around us for eternity, and it is on display for the universe to witness. When the enemy says, “Has God said that you shall not respond in anger to this person? Did God really mean that you should be gentle? God will understand if you in anger blow this person away,” we need to look to our Lord Jesus, submit our thoughts and hearts to Him, deny ourselves, and allow Him to live in us and through us (Galatians 2:20).

The peace of God, and the gentleness to which we are called, are alien to this age, to this world. The mass of humanity is eating from one tree, will we choose to eat from the other?

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 4

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:4-7].

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all…” [2Timothy 2:24a].

We live in a world of tension and aggression and if we buy into this world, this way of living, we will exhibit tension, anxiety, and aggression in our relationships and communications with others. Anxiety is the power that energizes the world, including the business world. From executives to employees, high-tension lines transmit fear, pressure, aggression, and anxiety throughout organizations. It’s not limited to business, we see it in government and politics, in entertainment, in sports, in education, in churches. It’s all about making things happen the way we want them to happen and making them happen yesterday. While we would not consider placing our hands on a high-tension line belonging to a utility company, knowing that the shock would kill us, we are accustomed to living with high-tension lines connected to our minds and hearts virtually 24/7 – and we seldom realize that they are killing us – killing our souls, our bodies, our families, our relationships…killing those around us. If we get zapped by someone or something we are conditioned to respond by transmitting a stronger and more violent zap back down the line. No wonder relational meltdowns occur with increasing frequency.

As we consider Paul’s words to the Christians in Philippi and to Timothy, lest we think that Paul is writing from an ivory tower, in both instances he is writing from prison, and in both instances the possibility of execution is present. Paul is not a motivational speaker picking the pockets of the gullible by giving them a shot of positive thinking, he is a man facing death sharing with others how to live life with one another in Jesus Christ.

Our passage in Philippians begins with, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” We are called to worship and love God with all that we have and all that we are. Worship begins with praise and thanksgiving; the psalmist exhorts us to “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4). When we walk through the gates of each day that our Lord has made do we do so with thanksgiving and praise to Him? Does worship set the tone for each day? Do we approach our heavenly Father and Lord Jesus with praise each morning…before we check our email, before we watch the news, before we check sporting results, before we begin our work?

Paul is not writing about what to do in an emergency, he is writing about how we ought to live life. Of course when things get tough we can remind ourselves of Philippians 4:4 – 7, but this passage should not be in a box with the words, “In case of emergency break glass,” this passage should be woven into the fabric of our lives. A life in which the peace of God guards a heart and mind is a life that rejoices in the Lord. Paul writes to rejoice in the Lord always, and then again he says rejoice! A man or woman who learns to rejoice in the Lord always is a man or woman who will experience the peace of God guarding the heart and mind.

This isn’t a rote exercise or “name it and claim it”, rather it is the cultivation of a life of thanksgiving and worship, focusing on God and not on ourselves.

Then we’re told, “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” There are two biospheres on this planet, the Kingdom of God and the world in rebellion against God. Followers of Jesus Christ are citizens of the Kingdom (Philippians 3:20) and as such we are subject to the King, our Lord Jesus. As Jesus says in John 17, we are in the world but we are not of the world. Since we are not of the world our lives, in obedience to Jesus Christ, are by their nature (which is His nature) countercultural. In a world of harshness and anger we have the opportunity to demonstrate the peace and gentleness of Jesus. This is a great calling, a calling to surrender control of our lives to the Lord Jesus; a calling to be identified with Him in our attitudes, words, and actions; a calling to introduce others to the Prince of Peace.

The fact that “The Lord is at hand” (Matthew 28:20) gives us assurance of His presence and also reminds us that our lives are not our own but that they belong to Jesus and that we are accountable to Him. At work I am mindful of my boss throughout the day; his office is down the hall from mine and we talk from time-to-time. When I send him an email or copy him on an email I am even more mindful of him. When I am with him in a meeting with others or working with him directly on a problem I am even more mindful of him. Should I not then be mindful throughout my life of Jesus Christ, who is not only with me but who lives within me? Whatever I say, whatever I think, whatever I do…the Lord Jesus is at hand.

We’ll pick this passage up on Page 5.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Another Irony of the American Civil War and WWII

To teach the American Civil War – or to film a documentary about it – without teaching about Reconstruction and its terror, and post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow and discrimination elsewhere in the country (and their terrors) is to take a text out of context.

To teach WWII – or to make a film documentary about it – without teaching about the Iron Curtain and its horrors is also taking a text out of context.

Of course, if we teach historical texts in their contexts then we are often confronted by our collective moral failures. We may pat ourselves on the back at Appomattox and the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment – but that can only be done if we ignore the context and we treat the 13th Amendment as the conclusion of the story. We may glory in victory over Nazism and leave it there, but at what price?

Speaking of Nazism – the basis of Nuremberg was “crimes against humanity.” How can there be such a thing if we are the products of time plus matter plus chance? If we buy into the idea that there is no transcendent truth, if we buy into the idea of the survival of the fittest – then we are faced with the truth (a false truth) that might makes right and that there is no moral basis for judging anyone or anything and therefore Nazism’s only failure was a failure of ultimate strength. But alas, we still think we need some kind of justification to do what we do, or our leaders think they need to give the masses a moral justification – and alas again…we don’t see the contradiction. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

An Irony of the American Civil War and WWII

While the American Civil War was ultimately fought by many in the North to free the slaves, African-Americans were hardly free at the war’s end – and into my own lifetime there have been lynchings, segregation, and discrimination taking various forms.

WWII in Europe was fought when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland and England and France honored their defense treaty with Poland. Yet at war’s end Poland (and all of Eastern Europe) was enslaved by the Soviet Union.    

Fallen humanity is not humane when it bumps up against self-interest – once the threat to ourselves is past we lack the will to persevere, to put our collective selves “needlessly” at risk; we do, however, have the will to rationalize away our failure to see things through to a moral conclusion. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 3

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” [James 3:13 – 18].

The above passage forms the conclusion to James’s famous passage on the tongue and is a bridge to Chapter Four, where James continues to confront his readers with sin in their lives; James 3:13 – 18 is an oasis between the fire and bitterness of a tongue not subject to the Lordship of Jesus (Chapter 3) and the turmoil of lives pursuing their own desires and lusts, at conflict with one another and with God (Chapter 4). In the midst of madness is the wisdom from above – pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable. Righteousness is not sown by ungodly anger, but rather sown in peace by those who make peace. Once again we hear the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”

While I would like to excuse my unrighteous anger, and while I would like to blame it on someone else or on circumstances, I am sobered by James’s words that when I live outside the gentleness of wisdom that I adopt a wisdom not from above that is earthly, natural, demonic. James gives me no excuse, no justification, no rationale for ungodly anger – he loves his readers enough to tell them where such “wisdom” comes from – it is not from above, it is rather from below.  

We live in a world that is angry. Every week, if not every day, we have opportunities to choose whether to respond to others and events in anger or to make peace as we live in the Prince of Peace. The temptation to drink from the cup of anger is ever present – while driving, while working, with our families, with friends and neighbors, within ourselves. We can leave the island of the wisdom from above and dive into the tumultuous sea of anger – if we do the riptide will carry us away and we will crawl exhausted back onto the beach and wonder what happened, wonder why we acted that way and said those things. Worse yet, one day the riptide may carry us so far from the shore that we drown in anger – destroying both ourselves and others. We ought to fear what ungodly anger and ungodly wisdom will do, we ought to fear its source, and we ought to learn to love the wisdom from above that is peaceable and gentle.

In a world intoxicated with the madness of anger will we be the sons and daughters of the Prince of Peace? Will we hear Jesus say to us, “Blessed are you because you were a peacemaker – you have grown into sonship, into maturity as a son, as a daughter, of my heavenly Father”?

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 2

The Apostle James writes (James 1:19 – 20), “…But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” James has two passages that I recommend for meditation when considering peace and anger; two passages which can guide and disciple us when we are confronted with the decision of whether to pursue peace or anger.

When we are tempted to indulge in anger, tempted to inflict anger on others (for that is what we do, it isn’t just that “I’m angry,” for anger is not self-contained but rather something we inflict on others), our choice is whether to be quick to hear or quick to anger. Situations in which we are tempted to propagate anger are by their nature situations that require a quick decision for they are highly-charged situations. When things are happening quickly an initial quick response is needed. If we choose to turn down the path of anger everything that unfolds from that point on will be quick – our actions, our words, and the damage we do will all happen quickly; the damage we do may take on a life of its own.

However, if we are quick to choose peace then what follows is a s-l-o-w-i-n-g down of our response - we are quick to hear, quick to listen; but then we are s-l-o-w to speak, and s-l-o-w (if the situation calls for it) to anger; for remember, there is righteous anger and there is unrighteous anger.

James writes, “…the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” When I read this statement I mentally strike the word “man” and insert the word “Bob”, in some of my Bibles I have lightly lined through the word “man” and written above it “Bob”. I need to be reminded that my anger does not produce the righteousness of God; in fact, my anger comes from my self-righteousness and not from God’s righteousness. We’ll pick this idea up later in James when we come to the second passage on peace and anger that lends itself to meditation.

As in all passages, the context of James 1:19 – 20 is critical for a fuller understanding of what James is writing. James begins his letter with, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” (1:2-4). Then we read, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved (by passing the test), he will receive the crown of life…” (1:12a); trials provide part of the context of James 1:19 – 20. No one gets angry without a reason, people get angry when there is pressure, and trials bring pressure – the question is, “How do we choose to respond under pressure?” When we are under pressure we are often tempted to indulge in anger.

James writes (1:13 – 15), “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” When we are in the midst of trials we can be tempted in a number of ways; we can be tempted to fix the problem without submitting to God in the trial, we can be tempted to alleviate the pain of the trial through self-medication (which can take a number of forms), and we can be tempted to anger – our own lust, as James writes, can carry us away – our lust to be our own god, our lust for self-medication in various forms of pleasure, our lust for destructive anger.

We get “carried away” and we justify our actions and emotions and thinking. We are “enticed” by rationalizing that the trials we are in justifies our thinking, emotions, and behavior. Our fulfillment of our lust results in sin and our sin results in death – the death more often than not is not physical but spiritual – we bring death into our own lives and sadly bring death into the lives of others. Recall that Jesus linked anger to murder.

Then we come to verses 16 – 18, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” We are not to look to our self-will and lust for solutions in our trials, but we are to look to our heavenly Father who never changes, who is eternally trustworthy, and who gives us good and perfect gifts. We are to remember who we are, a kind of first fruits of His creatures.

After verses 16 – 18 we have verses 19 and 20 - we need to be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Let’s continue to pursue the context by reading what comes after verses 19 and 20: “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”

We can become so accustomed to our way of doing things, and so accustomed to the world’s way of doing things, that we no longer see things the way God sees them. The words “filthiness” and “wickedness” may shock us when associated with “the anger of man”, but perhaps they are meant to shock us. Our lusts, including our lust of unrighteous anger, is filthiness and wickedness, and again, as Jesus says, it is akin to murder. I admit that when I consider the countless times I’ve displayed unrighteous anger, “the anger of Bob”, that I wish I had realized that what I chose to engage in was filthiness and wickedness. I am good at making excuses for my unrighteous anger – I imagine I’m the only one with that talent.

And then we have verse 26, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious (or spiritual, or a disciple, or following Jesus), and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” When we next consider what James has to say about peace and anger it will be in the context of his famous treatment of the tongue in Chapter Three. Until then, we have a taste of what is coming in his linkage of the tongue to following Jesus Christ. The heart and the tongue are inextricably connected, Jesus teaches that it is what comes out of the heart that defiles us, not what we eat. Our words communicate our hearts; if the eyes are the windows of the soul then the tongue is the mirror of the heart. A heart submitted to the Prince of Peace will speak words of peace (Colossians 3:15-17).

We live in a violent society, not just physically violent but verbally violent. Much music is violent, much “humor” is violent, much automobile driving is violent (aggressive), the way companies do business and politicians do politics is often violent – might makes right is the elixir of society. The pace of society has a rhythm of violence. It is little wonder that we are tempted to the violence of unrighteous anger, but it is no excuse to choose to follow that lust and sin.

And so I meditate on verses 19 and 20, knowing that should I choose to drink the cup of unrighteous anger, the anger of Bob, that I am drinking from the cup of the enemy and not the cup of my Lord Jesus. This passage has been something on which I’ve meditated prior to entering a tough situation; I have also meditated on it in the midst of a tough situation; and it is also one that has convicted me of sin after I’ve resorted to unrighteous anger. O how good to know that we can find forgiveness in our Lord Jesus when we have sinned, and how good to know that His grace will enable us to ask forgiveness of others to whom we have directed our unrighteous anger.  

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” Matthew 5:9.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 1

Dear Brother,

You asked me about anger, about how to deal with it, how to avoid it. I told you that I’d write some things down for you to ponder, I apologize for the delay, it isn’t that I haven’t been thinking about your request, but it takes time for seeds to germinate – I think our time with our friends last night helped the sprouts break through the soil; there is nothing quite like koinonia to encourage growth.

Of course the anger that we’re discussing is destructive and sinful anger; there is a righteous anger. Our collective problem is that we have too much of the former and a dearth of the latter. To ponder anger is not enough however, we must also ponder peace, for after all we are the sons and daughters of the Prince of Peace. Our lives should reflect who we are, not who we aren’t.

Isaiah writes (Isaiah 9:6 – 7a), “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace…”

Elsewhere Isaiah (59:8) writes about people who “do not know the way of peace.” We might say that on this planet there are two highways, two ways of life, and while these two ways of life have many designations, in our context the designations are “the way of the Prince of Peace” and “the way of sinful anger.” Consider that in the Sermon on the Mount, which was, as far as we know, Jesus’ first recorded public sermon outside a synagogue, that early in His message (Matthew 5:21 – 26) He deals with ungodly anger – placing it on the same plane as murder. Perhaps anger is the door through which murderers enter? Perhaps a perpetually angry heart is a perpetually murderous heart? Perhaps ungodly anger kills not only the soul of the one who nourishes it, but perhaps it also deals death to those to whom it is directed? Certainly Jesus’ words in Matthew are a wake-up call to us who desire to follow Him, a sobering warning that we’d better pay attention to who He is, who we are in Him, and whether or not we are living as “the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13 – 16).

Aren’t Jesus’ words in Matthew Chapter Five what we might expect from the Prince of Peace announcing His Kingdom and setting forth the principles and constitution of His Kingdom? Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount by teaching about peace in sexual purity, peace in marriage, peace in our language, peace when wronged, and peace with those whose aim is to harm us. Jesus is teaching us what “the way of peace” looks like – it looks like Jesus, and no wonder for He is the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah writes, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace…” We are called to live under the government (lordship) of Jesus Christ, and in so doing we are called to be His agents in the increase of His government and of His peace. Therefore, the life and peace of Jesus Christ is to displace anger in our lives and we are to share His peace wherever we go. His peace is to increase in our lives, in our hearts and minds; our souls are to be souls of peace – and we are to be ambassadors of peace in a world of anger and violence.

Paul writes (Colossians 3:15), “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Who is to rule my heart? What is to rule my heart? Will it be Jesus or me? Will it be the peace of Jesus Christ or will it be my selfish anger? Every temptation to anger presents me with a decision, will my heart submit to the peace of Christ or will my anger and self-will rebel against His peace and attempt to dethrone Him from the rule of my heart? Will I be a rebel or a disciple? Will I be a wise son or a foolish son? Will I deviate from the way of peace and follow the tsunami of the world’s anger? Will I be an agent for the increase of His government and of His peace?

When we drive a car we ought to drive only when sober. When we live life we ought to live soberly – aware of Christ, aware of ourselves, aware of others, aware that He is the Prince of Peace.

Back to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:9) where Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” This is Jesus’ call to us, to you and to me and to our brothers and sisters – any opportunity for anger is an opportunity to make peace, to infuse the peace of Jesus Christ into a relationship and a situation.

What opportunities await us today?