A Meditation on Peace

Today is the second Sunday of advent and so now is a good time to focus our hearts and minds on peace – and not just peace in the abstract – but the peace that only Christ can bring.

Peace, in the Christian way of thinking, is not simply the absence of strife. Peace is the presence of a contented, restful, goodness that pervades your life. Some of my readers will be aware of that great, Old Testament Hebrew word for peace – shalom. The word speaks of well-being and restoration. An oasis in the desert. It’s the kind of thing we all crave – the kind of thing we take vacation time looking for (and maybe only occasionally find it!) So unlike John Lennon’s definition of peace – as in “give peace a chance” – the peace that Jesus brings is not merely the absence of something – it is the presence of something. It’s a positive addition and not a negation. The peace of Christ is something that fills you up – like a newborn baby with a full belly of milk.

Whenever I read through Proverbs, there is one particular saying that always grabs my attention: “Better is a dry crust of bread where there is quietness than a house full of feasting with strife.” (17:1, NET). Who doesn’t resonate with that? Who hasn’t sat through an awkward family meal where there is underlying angst? We all have. But here we see the utter value of peace – to be together and to know the unity and joy of a settled and quiet home is worth giving up the turkey, the gravy, and even the dressing. The benefit of peace – peace in the marriage – peace in the family –  outweighs any other physical blessing. It’s better to receive wood blocks for Christmas and play well with the other kids than discord with a mountain full of gifts under the tree.

That proverb hits home. That’s why it grabs me. It makes me all emotional. We all crave that kind of peace.

And so, Scripture exhorts us: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace…” (Col 3:15 NIV).

The way to get real peace is to get acquainted with the Prince of Peace. When we bow the knee to Jesus – when we all bow the knee to Jesus – there is a sweet aroma that permeates our marriages, our homes, and our churches. That is what we are called to. That is what God the Holy Spirit works into our lives as we submit to Jesus. We need to strive for it. The place that starts is learning how to confess our junk – generally to those closest to us, to those who know us all too well.

Yet this Sunday is a time to look forward to the ultimate, coming kingdom of Jesus. That is the reason to “let” the peace of Christ “rule” today – because his peace will rule forever, not only in our hearts but over every square centimeter of Jesus’ new restored and transformed earth in the age to come.

We need to anticipate the peace of heaven this advent season. I heard a familiar carol, Away in a Manger, on the radio a couple days ago but they had changed the lyric. Instead of the original, “Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and fit us for heaven, to live with thee there.” They had “take us to heaven, to live with thee there.” Nope. Bring back the original.

(My guess is that this band felt that if they said God is “fitting” us for heaven then that must be teaching a form of self-salvation – some form of us proving ourselves worthy of salvation – pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Now, I want to affirm wholly that none of us, apart from the shed blood of Jesus, can be fit for heaven on our own. We need a Saviour. That’s the point of Christmas. Nevertheless…)

We do need to be fit for heaven. Hebrews 9:28 says we need to eagerly anticipate the new age right now: “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” The peace of heaven is intended for those who are living in peace today.

Our summons then is to anticipate that peace now by repentance – by turning our hearts to a place of reconciliation and peace with the Prince of Peace. That form of repentance also inherehntly involves pursuing peace with others “if it is possible…as far as it depends on you” (Rom 12:18, NET).

Even the smallest taste of that peace will make for a wonderful advent season – for there are few things better in life than the excellent combination of a big table full of food and a big heart full of peace. For indeed that is what is awaiting us in the age to come, for “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…” (Isaiah 9:7, ESV).

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Loving the Gift or the Giver?

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The last post was a hearty encouragement to really go for it at Christmas. Bake some goodies. Wrap some gifts. Celebrate.

Now, that sort of post quite naturally opens up a bigger question that Christians have wrestled with for hundreds of years; namely, “What is the role of material blessings in my walk with God?”

The real danger we face today is to love the gift instead of the Giver. We reject God (atheism) but enjoy all that he daily provides us with, snatching his gifts greedily without thanksgiving or praise. Many Christians fall into this trap. The “prosperity gospel” falls into this trap.

But there is a more subtle danger among Christians. It’s the danger of asceticism. Asceticism is denying the body and its normal, natural appetites. Rightly rejecting this atheistic attitude they seek to enjoy the Giver instead, or in spite of, his gifts. They pursue a sort of ethereal, spiritual, monkish existence where gifts are renounced as a way of showing how valuable the Giver is. They struggle with guilt and have a hard time receiving anything.

At this point I would encourage you to watch a short interchange between my two favourite breathing theologian/churchmen – John Piper and Doug Wilson. Jump ahead to the 52 minute mark:

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/a-conversation-with-doug-wilson-and-john-piper

So the answer to this apparent dilemma is that we need to embrace the tension of loving the Giver and the gift. Or perhaps you could say loving the Giver in and through the gift. On the one side we ought to reject asceticism and then enjoy the material blessings of God – music, sex, beer, bacon, family, among others. But on the other side we must constantly cultivate gratitude and worship towards God’s goodness such that we love the Giver even if – or better, when – the gifts are taken.

Three take-away points:

  • Embrace the life of self-denial. The Christian life is one of self-discipline adn self-denial. As Jesus said in Mark 8:34: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” ESV)
  • Maximize your gratitude instead of minimizing the material: “…everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:5 ESV)
  • Incorporate punctuated anchor points of prayer and praise to the Giver throughout your day, every day, and especially at Christmas where gifts abound: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17 ESV)

Christmas points to Easter…and Easter to Christmas

Which holiday is more important? Christmas or Easter?

I remember having a conversation with my dad many years ago where we discussed the relative value of Christmas and Easter as holidays. During Christmas Christians celebrate the birth of Christ and God’s intrusion into human history to dwell with people; on Easter (and Good Friday) we celebrate his death and resurrection and what he accomplished for us through his death and resurrection; namely, the appeasment of God’s wrath, the transfer of Christ’s righteousness, and the consequent reconciliation to God for those who repent and believe.

Dad and I concluded that Easter should be the bigger celebration. Easter was when God dealt with our problem of sin by the crucifixion and resurrection of his Son. Jesus died the death we deserve to pay the penalty for our sin, and then he rose from the dead to secure our new-creational, resurrection life. I think most Christians would agree with our conclusion – at this time of year many Christians rightly explain that the real marvel of Christmas is that Jesus came as a baby to grow up and die for our sins.

However, I am beginning to think that Easter actually points back to Christmas.

At Christmas we celebrate the fact that “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). When Jesus entered history as a baby boy, God dwelt with people in a visible, unique, incarnational way. That is the glory of Christmas!

But the dwelling of God with people is also the aim of Easter. The goal of the Gospel (which is the good news, the salvation news, of Easter) is that we get God and we get to glorify God in getting God. As the book of Revelation draws to a close (as the Bible draws to a close), the Apostle John writes: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3 ESV). God began to dwell with people at Christmas. And through Easter he definitively accomplished, once for all, his dwelling with people as we live with him, presently through union and communion with Christ, and then eternally as we behold him face to face (Rev 22:4).

So both holidays are glorious. Both holidays point to the awesome reality that we get God.

Therefore,the obvious application is that this Christmas we ought to make time to dwell with God. Seek him out while he may be found. Worship him. Commune with him in Scripture and prayer. Come and adore him!

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Why Christmas is such a Big Deal

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Why is Christmas such a big deal?

There is a Presbyterian Pastor in Idaho named Douglas Wilson who wrote a book about Christmas called “God Rest Ye Merry” and the book’s subtitle is striking: “Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything.” Really? Is Christmas really the foundation for everything?

Yes it is. At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation – when God, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Creator and Sustainer of the universe was born with little hands, little fingers, and a little heart. Little Lord Jesus was born – no crying he made? I doubt it. He was a real, human baby – that’s the point. God put on flesh and dwelt among us.

In John’s Gospel it says that “the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14 ESV). A more literal translation of that is “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” What? “Pitched his tent”? Yes Jesus came down and built a tent, a dwelling place, among us; in fact, he built a tabernacle, a tent. There was a time in the Old Testament where you went to the tabernacle to encounter God. And that is why Jesus “pitched a tent” as it were when he came to earth. When we come to Jesus we encounter God, which is why John goes on to say, “…and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). That is the wonder and glory of Christmas – when we encounter Jesus we come face to face with the living God, the same holy God who dwelt in the tent in the wilderness.

And that is the foundation for everything. Since Jesus came down we have a new and living way to come face to face with God. By Jesus, and through repentance and faith, we get to enjoy God, worship God, commune with God, and dwell with God in whose “presence there is fullness of joy” and at whose “right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

Merry Christmas!