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.”