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Living in Peace with God

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“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

As I write this today, peace would certainly not be the first word to come to mind when describing the state of affairs in our country. There is a level of unrest that has not be seen on such a scale in many, many years. Some have compared the recent magnitude of protests to what was seen in the 60’s. There are calls from across the land for peace and justice for all of our citizens. But both can be elusive.

This week I would like to invite you to consider what God says about peace. Reflect on it from three perspectives: peace with God, peace with myself, and peace with others. God most certainly has something to say about this and we would, as always, benefit from listening to Him.

Peace with God should be easy; after all, God loves us! If that’s true (and it is) how could we not be at peace with God?

As His children by baptism, we have the peace with God that Paul describes in Romans 5:1. But it was not always that way. Prior to God’s gracious gift of faith, our sinful nature put us in the position of being an enemy of God. The apostle James makes that clear when he writes, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4b

While we live in a world and a time where peace is challenged, we know that nothing can take away the peace that we have with God. Today we pause and thank God that He has done what is necessary for us to no longer be His enemy, but rather His beloved. Typically, peace is the result of two parties agreeing not to harm one another, to live cooperatively. In the best of cases, peace brings with it mutual support and a beneficial relationship that grows over time. Each party brings something to the table that strengthens the relationship and makes peace desirable by both.

But what do we have to bring to God? What can we offer that would cause Him to desire peace with us? Nothing, not a thing. God gives us His peace out of pure love through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Consider the words of Paul later in Romans 5, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” Romans 5:10

The peace that we now have with God opens the door for peace with ourselves and others.

Father, thank you for the peace that I have with You through the life, death, and resurrection of my Savior Jesus. Your love for me is beyond my understanding but that makes me all the more grateful. Even in times of trouble, may the peace that I have with You always bring me great comfort for my soul and all that I need to face the day. In Jesus precious name I pray, amen.

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Turn to Jesus

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54 Now when they (the Jewish leaders) heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at (Stephen). 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.  (Acts 7:54-60)

As they were stoning him, Stephen turned to the Lord.  Notice that he doesn’t call out for the Lord to stop his execution.  Instead, he simply calls out for forgiveness.  Their forgiveness!  Forgiveness for those who falsely accused Him of blaspheme because he preached the life-giving Gospel of Jesus.  Forgiveness for finding him worthy of death on trumped up charges.  Forgiveness for taking his life in such an unjust and inhumane manner.  He knows that his work on earth is completed.  He has shared the Good News with the people.  He has been rejected, but Stephen still loves these people to whom he was sent.  They have not only rejected the messenger, they rejected the message.  This is exactly what Jesus said would happen.  The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me (Luke 10:16).

We learn from Stephen to turn to Jesus.   Odds are, we are not going to be executed for our faith, but there are those times that living our faith brings with it ridicule and question.  Recently someone asked me how I can be nice to those who have treated me with disrespect.  They questioned my sincerity.  Was I being fake?  Responding to ignorance and spite with love and care is a Jesus-thing.  Jesus is the one who said, You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).  How can you do that?  Try doing this:

  • Remember that God loves us, not because we are so good, but because He is so good! God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
  • Pray for a heart to love the unlovable.
  • Pray for the person who has opposed or offended you. It’s hard to hate someone when you’re praying for him/her.
  • Say nice things and do nice things for that person. It’s also hard to hate while you’re doing nice things.

So, what if the person continues to offend or shun you?  Keep praying.  It’s important to be the one who loves rather than the one who hates.

Prayer: O Holy Spirit, bless me that I would not harbor hatred in my heart.  Give me the faith to rise above any desires to return spite with spite.  Instead, allow me the privilege of loving the unlovable.  I pray this in the name of the resurrected Jesus.  Amen.


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Things of This World

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“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions —is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”  I John 2:15-17

It’s such a fine line: to enjoy our earthly possessions as gifts of God’s grace or to obsess about the things of this world and covet our neighbor’s stuff.  How are you doing?

The devil works in two different ways here.  Sometimes, he tries to make us feel guilty for enjoying life.  Instead, we ought to give thanks to God for whatever blessings He gives us in life.  But other times, he dangles possessions and the things of world in front of our eyes to tempt us to look for meaning and purpose in the things of life, instead of in the Author of Life.

It’s a fine line:  to enjoy our earthly possessions as gifts of God’s grace or to obsess about the things of this world and covet our neighbor’s stuff!  Let’s be honest, most Americans have enough disposable income to veer off into “possession obsession.”  (Or, for those Americans who don’t have enough disposable income, there’s always credit cards.) 

Why do we struggle so much with this?

It’s a simple answer, I think.  We’re looking for fulfillment in things that can’t bring it.  Whatever your “shopping therapy” or entertainment preferences are, the short-term high that they bring cannot provide the soul contentment that we need.  Only Jesus fills that hole.

So, what can we do?  First, thank God for all His gifts.  Second, search your heart for unhealthy attachments to worldly things.  Third, confess your sins.  Fourth, know that you are forgiven in Christ!

Heavenly Father, sometimes I’m too attached to the things of this world.  Forgive me.  Help me to be grateful for all that You give me, but help me also to not hold on tightly to the things of this world.  Rather, by Your Spirit, give me strength to hold on tightly to Jesus, who alone fills the needs of my soul.  In His name, Amen. 


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Create In Me a Clean Heart

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54 Now when they (the Jewish leaders) heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at (Stephen). 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
(Acts 7:54-60)
 
Have you ever wondered what your last words on this earth would be?  Stephen, as his life is taken from him by an angry crowd calls out, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  Stephen quotes His Savior, who spoken those words from the cross, having fulfilled all that was necessary for our salvation.  Charlemagne, the Roman emperor who died in 814, uttered these same last words, as did Christopher Columbus in 1506.  I always hoped I would have the privilege of leaving this world with these same words on my lips.  It would be a privilege to die with these as our last words.

It is also a privilege to begin each new day with these words on our lips.  Each day is a gift from the Lord.  Our gift to Him is the manner in which we live that day.  It is so easy to begin our day, rehearsing the “To Do” list that stands before us.  Our plans can take priority.  Our goals can become our god.  Often we find ourselves asking the Lord to bless what we are doing.  Perhaps it would be better for us to begin the day praying for the Lord to lead us to the things that He is blessing.

Our gifts and talents and abilities are a gift from God, to be used to serve Him.  The best way to serve the Lord is by serving others.  How are you making a difference to the people around you?  Your “To Do” list is important, but it must include caring for others physically, emotionally and spiritually.

We live in a fast paced world, which has recently come to a near halt.  Perhaps the Lord is offering this time for us to reconnect with those who could use a word of encouragement, a word of care, a word of compassion.  Are you making a difference for others?  If not, join King David who prayed about his spirit, saying, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).

Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you (Psalm 51:11-13).  I pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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Abundant Forgiveness

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And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
1 Kings 17:13-16  ESV

 
How could so little become so much? The poor widow in today’s reading had barely enough flour and oil to make a single cake for herself and her son. Even worse, because of the severe drought in the land, she had resolved herself to the reality that it would be their last meal and they would then die. How bold of Elijah to impose on her and say that she should first feed him and then there would still be enough for her. But yet by faith that Elijah was speaking God’s word and command to her, she obeyed.
 
While we may not see this exact miracle elsewhere in scripture, there are certainly many examples of God calling people to have faith and trust in Him to provide. Perhaps the most similar story comes in the New Testament with the feeding of the 5,000. With just a few fish and loaves, Jesus feeds the multitude and shows them the power of God to provide for their most basic needs.
 
For most of us, our basic needs of food are well covered. We seldom miss a meal and often have much more than enough. But there is an even more important basic need that only God can provide, and that is the need for forgiveness. Because of our fallen nature we sin daily, and often. We are in desperate need of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
 
But thanks be to God who still today speaks to us as Elijah spoke to the widow with the words, “Do not fear.” Though Satan would whisper in our ears that we are not good enough for God to love and that surely God could never forgive us, the truth is that we have nothing to fear. Because God sent His Son Jesus to suffer, die, and rise again, we have absolute confidence that the forgiveness He offers is indeed for us. And the best news is that it will never run out! As the flour and oil was supplied to sustain the widow and those in her household, so God supplies the forgiveness to sustain us until the day when He will call us to heavenly home.
 
Gracious Father, thank You for the abundant forgiveness that You pour out on me for the sake of Jesus my Lord. Calm my heart with the peace that only You can bring. I have nothing to fear knowing that You are in control. Bless me as I await His return and pray in His name, amen.


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