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Peace with Myself

woman sitting on sand
 
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27
 
Stop and consider for a moment the many gifts that God gives to us every day. Now be specific; with a grateful heart reflect on the blessings that He has poured out on you. That you are reading this devotion today means that He has given you another day of life to live for Him and others. Everything you have and need is His gift of love to you.
 
Among the many gifts that God gives to you, did you consider the gift of peace? In this case consider the peace in your soul, the peace that only He can give and that is beyond our understanding. This is a peace, as Jesus tells us, which is far different from what the world offers. Any peace in this world can be superficial, but God’s peace is true and enduring. Because of His peace we have no need to fear, no need to be troubled by whatever is happening around us.
 
You might be thinking now that this is easier said than done. There is so much trouble all around us, how can we have peace in our souls. Like so much in life, we need to look not within ourselves for the answer, but instead look to cross. On the cross Jesus did everything necessary to reconcile us with the Father so that we might have true peace, peace with God, peace with others, and peace with ourselves.
 
Today, may “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
 
Precious Jesus, I am in awe of Your love and mercy today. You give me all that I need in this life and for the life to come. Thank You especially for the gift of peace. When my heart is troubled, grant me the peace that comes only from You. In Your name I pray, amen.

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Freedom

landscape shot of white cross during daytime
 
“Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’  If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. . .Why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?  If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?”  1 Corinthians 10:25-27 and 29-30

The villains in the four Gospels are clearly the Pharisees.  Jesus calls them hypocrites.  He condemns their superficial spirituality, their self-righteous pride, and their loveless disregard for the hurting.  The Pharisees degraded the Sabbath into 39 classes of prohibited labor, from swatting a fly to combing your hair.  They paraded their tithing and their praying, thinking God’s people and even God himself would be impressed.  Pharisees are the poster child for legalism.  Legalism is making religious rules where God hasn’t.  Legalism is viewing God and others through the demands of the law rather than the love of the Gospel, condemning where there should be forgiving and commanding where God’s way is inviting.  Legalism seeks to manipulate religious behavior with guilt and obligation, while God transforms behavior with grace-induced gratitude.  Legalism is, as a friend described it, “shoulding on people.”

In the first century the legalism that troubled the church was the insistence that Old Testament requirements, laws given by God to focus people on their need for forgiveness and the promised Savior who would deliver that forgiveness, were a necessary addition to faith in Jesus.  From circumcision to Sabbath ritual, legalists insisted that God’s grace was not enough. In Corinth there was a more subtle form of legalism, making it a sin to eat meat that might have been offered at a pagan temple before crossing the counter of a local butcher shop.  Too easily one person’s sensitive conscience became a moral law binding the conscience of others.  St. Paul asserts Christian freedom to enjoy God’s gifts, such as a good steak, without feeling guilty.

A couple of generations back, legalism in the church meant prohibiting movies, dancing, alcohol, card playing and life insurance.  Though the Bible didn’t exactly forbid such things, serious people believed that religious rules were a way to keep people from temptations and questionable associations.  I wonder what legalistic tendencies later generations may see in us, principles pushed too far or tests of orthodoxy beyond Scripture.

Maybe the greater danger, especially in a time where God’s moral law is violated and ignored blatantly, is that we make religion about what people do rather than what God has done.  Maybe we are inclined to think that our above-average moral lives make us better than other sinners and more acceptable to God.  The greatest danger of legalism is pushing Jesus into the background, in our own hearts and in our witness to those outside the church, who will never be brought to faith by the guilt trips imposed by Christians.

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for confronting me with my sin and then assuring me that it has been paid for by Jesus.  Keep me from dwelling on guilt, mine and others’.  Accept my thanks for the many gifts and blessings you provide, and encourage me to enjoy them in the freedom of the Gospel.  Let those who view the church negatively see in Jesus a reason to join us.  Amen.

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Bold Enough to Share Our Hope (Part 3)

black cross statue

Mark 10:52  And immediately (Bartimaeus) recovered his sight and followed Him on the way.

Blind Bartimaeus was bold to ask for help as he sat by the road.  As Jesus passed, He gave Bartimaeus his sight back.  We can be impressed with this blind beggar that he was bold enough to jump up when Jesus was near, stopping Him in His tracks, making it very clear that he wanted something.  But the real boldness was yet to come.

Jesus, while popular with the people at this time in His life, shortly before His crucifixion, was very disliked by the religious leaders of His day.  Those leaders wielded much power and could be very threatening to those who were followers of Jesus.  We see that displayed on numerous occasions, particularly when another blind man was healed by Jesus, only to be vocally pummeled and abused by religious leaders who didn’t want to believe.  Bartimaeus was entering this fray when he got up to follow His new Lord.

But Bartimaeus followed anyway.  One wonders if he felt fear, especially as the coming days would see the culmination of a vast plot to have Jesus crucified.  One wonders if he had second thoughts.  We know nothing of Bartimaeus after this account in Mark, but we can assume that he was quite aware of the risks involved in being a follower of Jesus.  And yet off he went, boldly, anyway.

Why would Bartimaeus be so bold to follow in the midst of certain opposition?  He saw.  He knew.  He had been given a gift.  Might this be our motivation as well?  This world is full of opposition to Jesus.  And yet, we follow.  We boldly follow because we know, we see, and we have been given a gift.  Our blindness has been healed so that now we see Jesus clearly and believe He is our Savior.  We rejoice that He has come to us, found us, and made us His own.  Even though there is opposition in society and often in our inner circles, we have received too much from our Lord to be timid and quiet.  We boldly share the hope that is in us because of the gift of life that we have received.  The modern Bartimaeus…that’s who we are.

Gracious Lord, you have healed us from the blindness of sin.  May we continue to be bold in our following of you, because of the gift you have given to us.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Peace with Others

person in red sweater holding babys hand
 
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
 
“Peace for our time” became one of the most ironic quotes in history following Hitler’s invasion of Poland and continued aggression less than a year after these words were spoken by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. While Chamberlain, and so many others in Europe, hoped and even prayed for peace, they severely underestimated their enemy.
 
Now, almost eighty years later, peace seems no more possible for our time than it did when Hilter invaded Poland. Recent events around the globe remind us how fallen our world is. Watch the news or read the paper and you can’t miss it. You can’t help but wonder if it will get worse before it gets better.
 
But peace is not just an international concern. This lack of peace often becomes very personal in our lives as we experience confrontations with others at work, school, or even in our homes. Look around at your life. Where do you see tension or even hostility? Are all of your relationships “peaceful”?
 
As people approach the end of life, one of their great desires is to “make peace” with everyone. This is especially true of family members. No one wants to leave behind hard feelings and regrets. This is especially true for Children of God. Because of our peace with God, our hearts have been changed and we now seek peace with others, especially within God’s family.
 
So why wait until the end of life? Consider again Paul’s encouragement to us today, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
 
Make today the day that you live out this encouraging word by God’s grace. Pray that He would lay on your heart those who you need to reconcile with and begin rebuilding a relationship. As the Holy Spirit dwells in you, the fruit of peace will begin to bear.
 
Holy Spirit, work in me to be an agent of peace. Whether it is a member of my family, my school or workplace, or within my community, may I be the first to work for peace and in so doing show Your love and grace to others. It’s in Jesus name I pray, Amen.

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Bold Enough to Share Our Hope (Part 2)

grayscale photography of crucifix

Acts 2:22  (Peter said) “Men of Israel, hear these words:  Jesus of Nazareth…you crucified and killed.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.”

Really?  Peter said that?  It was the day of Pentecost and something amazing happened.  As the Holy Spirit’s presence was demonstrated in wind and flames and speaking in tongues, the most important effect of Pentecost was seen in Peter’s message.  The Spirit had equipped Peter and the rest of the Apostles that day with understanding and boldness.

Remember Peter on Maundy Thursday night?  There he was, standing in the courtyard of the High Priest while Jesus was on trial inside.  Numerous people approached Peter and suggested that he was a follower of Jesus.  And on each occasion, Peter figuratively hid from these accusers by denying that he ever even knew Jesus.  But now look!  It’s Pentecost and Peter seems very different.  Far from hiding, far from denying, Peter spoke openly, boldly, confidently about what was the heart of the Christian message.  “Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.”  There was no shirking back from the message on that day.  Nor would there be much hesitation on his part or of any of the disciples after that.  From Pentecost on, they were bold to share their hope.

We have the same Holy Spirit as Peter and the Apostles did.  That Spirit equips us now.  In Baptism the Holy Spirit came to us and gave us faith.  Throughout our lives, the Spirit has continually taught us and assured us through the Word that Jesus is Lord and Savior.  So that now we, like Peter, may boldly proclaim the hope that is within us.  Our boldness comes from the Spirit’s work in us and our confidence in the true Word of God.  We don’t back down, even if society wants us to.  But lovingly, certainly, we are like Peter on Pentecost, pointing to what matters most.  Jesus was crucified for us and for our forgiveness, and then rose from the dead so that we may have eternal life.  May we be bold about this, by the Spirit’s power!

Gracious Lord, because you have given to us the Holy Spirit, we know Christ and we know Your Word.  May we be bold to proclaim it lovingly so that others may know the hope that we have.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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