What is Peace

C5C35B26-E95E-4E0E-A3B1-104BBB923A64Why do I hate this perfectly lovely picture of Jesus? In a minute.

The world is descending into chaos. My life is chaos. Not just because of the insanity we are all  living in, or because I am embroiled in any particular dramas at the moment. Mostly, it’s just because of the nonstop noise that goes on inside my head. I’m always working on about 15 tracks at once. All my life I’ve wondered if there is something wrong with me or if I’m not really saved because I don’t feel that incredible peace that people say comes over them once they give their lives to Christ. 

Maybe I’m the only one, but the thing with my brain is it doesn’t let me rest in the moment. When I’m working at my job I’d rather be anywhere else. When I’m doing something else I think I should be catching up on my job. If I’m trying to write, I think I should be doing the laundry, or vacuuming, or making a shopping list, or writing something else. If I’m working in my yard I think I should use the time to get some writing done, or some housework. When I’m out walking with the dogs I’m thinking about my endless list of chores, or fretting about the state of the world, or remembering that kid in grade school who said that really rude thing that one time. It goes on forever. My only respite comes when I get totally absorbed in a project – writing, drawing, praying, digging in the dirt – and that only ever happens after at least 30 minutes of fighting against the voices in my head telling me I should be doing something else. 

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I just want peace. Not this constant, nagging anxiety. 

So why do I hate this ubiquitous, horrendous, awful, stinking excuse for a painting that I have hated since I was seven years old? Well, not only did they make Jesus a woman with a beard, with those overly effeminate features, and make him whiter than a lily and nothing like a first century Jew, but most of all they gave him the worst expression. Maybe it is supposed to demonstrate the peace of Christ, but all I see is a simpering blankness. A dead-eyed stare that reminds me more of the devil than of Jesus.

Being a Christian is hard work. We’re attacked in one way or another almost every day. Not just the actual persecution that heroic Christians face in places like North Korea, China, Pakistan and Iran, but everyday torments like the nonstop noise in my head. Or petty little nothings that go wrong and make you blow your stack and curse like a sailor and break things. The constant temptations to become either a Pharisee or a flaming hypocrite. Wanting to be like Jesus more than anything, to know and live and most of all SHARE his peace, but to blow it every single freaking day of your miserable life. To be a Martha when you just want to be a Mary. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, PEACE . . . (Gal 5:2)

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

And the PEACE of God, which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

The Lord blesses his people with PEACE. (Psalm 29:11)

You [God] will keep in perfect PEACE those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

PEACE I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

These verses can give me more anxiety than peace. “Oh my god! I don’t feel peaceful! I’m a bad Christian! Maybe I’m not even a Christian at all! Oh Noooooooooooo!”

Yet, underneath the Hot Mess soup that is my life, there IS something. I don’t have “peace” like someone in a lotus positioning chanting “Om” and feeling their oneness with the universe. But there is a knowing, deep within me. An understanding that God is true and trustworthy. His word is trustworthy. He’s proven that time and time again in history and also in my own life. Things are going to pan out the way the Bible says so. We may be living in the last days right now, which is terrifying (because a LOT of bad stuff is going to happen in those days even if the pre-Trib position is true), but also comforting because we know that Christ wins in the end. And if I don’t ever get that feeling of utter calm and tranquility in this world, I will one day. So there is a peace in that, an undercurrent of real peace and calm that is always there even though the river is raging above.

Anyway, this started out to be an explanation of why I’ve been all over the place and not going through the NT the way I said I would way back in January. But I’m working on getting more focused and tomorrow I am going to dive headfirst into the Gospel of John. 

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved….Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [Jesus] will be saved. (Romans 10:9-13)

Two Wills in the Universe

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One more tree will fall
   How strong the growing vine
Turn the earth to sand
   And still commit no crime
How one thought will live
   Provide the others die . . .
– John Lodge

Trying to make sense of the madness around us today, we should ask what is at the root of it all. Is the anarchy evil, or actually good at its core? 

The Bible (Galatians 5:22-23) describes the fruits of the Spirit (godliness) as:
LOVE
Joy
PEACE
Patience
KINDNESS
Goodness
Faithfulness
Gentleness
SELF CONTROL

On the flip side, the fruits of the sinful nature, or wickedness (Galatians 5:19-21) are:
Sexual immorality
Impurity
Debauchery
Idolatry
Witchcraft
HATRED
DISCORD
Jealousy
FITS OF RAGE
Selfish Ambition
DISSENSIONS
FACTIONS
Envy
Drunkenness
Orgies, etc.

We can meditate on these things and figure out the answer to today’s problems for ourselves.

The fruits of the Spirit and the fruits of wickedness showcase the two wills in the universe — the will of God and the will of the self.

Satan was the first to set his own will against the will of God. He said:
I WILL ascend to Heaven;
I WILL raise my throne above the stars of God.
I WILL sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost
heights of the sacred mountain.
I WILL ascend above the top of the clouds;
I WILL make myself like the Most High!
– Isaiah 14:13-14

In contrast, Jesus said, in the garden on the night he was betrayed:
Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; Yet not my will, but Thine be done. 
     – Luke 22:42

Satan, or Lucifer, beautiful cherub though he may once have been (see Ezekiel 28), is only a creature, made by the very Lord he wants to destroy. He is not God. He is a Creator of nothing. Yet he thinks he deserves to be God and wants to rule the universe. He cares for no one and nothing except himself. 

Jesus IS God (John 1:1). He made us (John 1:3). He has the right to rule the universe and subjugate us to his will. Yet his attitude is the opposite of Satan’s:

[Jesus] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but rather emptied himself, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!  – Philippians 2:6-8

There are only two wills in the universe. All of us are on one side or the other. There is no neutral ground. Our nature without Christ is the sin nature — rage, jealousy, hatred, envy, lust, etc. Whatever goodness we might know comes not from ourselves, but from God, whether we are believers or not:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” – James 1:17

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteousness.” – Matthew 5:45

Once we belong to Christ, the Holy Spirit begins His work in us and we can know the joy of living in the gifts of the Spirit — Love. Joy. Peace. Kindness. Goodness. In Jesus alone is everything that our aching and dying hearts are crying out for and everything that this ugly, unhappy, violent world sorely lacks.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved . . . For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  – Romans 10:9-13

Sibling Rivalry, 1st-Century Style

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As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”

Luke 10:38-41

A friend and I had an argument a long time ago over this story. I’m Mary all the way and she was 100% Team Martha. I was the right one, of course. I mean, honestly! Jesus himself is in the room, teaching. What else is there to be done but listen to him? None of these people were in imminent danger of starving to death. If Martha had chosen to sit and listen like Mary did, then once Jesus was done talking how long would it have taken to knock together some pita and beans? 

Jesus chides Martha, but very gently. Did he feel sad for her? Martha wasted a rare opportunity to just be with Jesus. She was obsessed with something that would be forgotten the minute it was over. Mary, on the other hand, has a memory she will treasure throughout eternity.

People sometimes imagine where in history they would go if they had a time machine. The very first place for me would be right there, that day, that little house in Bethany. Sitting like Mary, just drinking Jesus in.

To be fair to Martha, when Lazarus dies it is Martha who shows the most faith in Jesus, not Mary. So I wonder if she took the lesson of that day to heart.

This story also illustrates Jesus’ view of women. None of the Pharisees of that day would have allowed a woman to sit right in with the men and listen to a rabbi. Women were little more than chattel then, treated much as women in Shariah-ruled countries are today. 

Finally, the story gives us another glimpse of God’s character, of what he values. I think he longs to enjoy just being with us. That day, Jesus and Mary gave us all a glimpse of what our relationship with God is supposed to be like.

What the hell was the devil thinking?

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Luke Chapter 4 gives another version of the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. The devil’s attempts remind me of the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but without the successful results. “Kingdoms! Power! Glory! And All Free Today!”

What I can’t figure out is if the devil really thought he had any chance. Once upon a time he was the greatest angel in heaven, a cherub (Ezekiel 28:14). He stood in the very presence of God. He knew who and what God was. He knew Jesus. He worshiped at the altar of God Almighty. If anyone should have a good idea of what they are in comparison to God it should have been Lucifer. But his utter audacity at trying to get God to worship him is a testament to the power of self-delusion. 

I wonder if part of his testing Jesus was to discern if he actually was the Messiah or not. I think we give the devil more credit than he deserves for foresight and wisdom (I don’t think he is wise at all; I’ll get to that next week). Even John the Baptist had his doubts about Jesus. First he says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), but later he sends his disciples to ask if Jesus really is the Messiah or should they be looking for someone else (Luke 7:20). This Jesus of Nazareth, with his humble birth, unassuming appearance, working class family, country accent, and ragtag group of friends, would be a far cry from the King of Kings that Satan once knew in Heaven. 

The first temptation in Luke 4 is, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (v 3). It sounds like a taunt. I can hear the sneer in his voice, but also some wondering. Perhaps he was thinking, “IF you are the Son . . . Is he? Could he be? I sense his presence and shudder. But a peasant? From Galilee? So common! So ordinary! He can’t be! Yet, he must be. …Is he?”  The lesser demons didn’t seem to have any doubts (see verse 33), but their leader may have done what a lot of clever people do, that is, overthink everything. That is pure speculation, though. Scripture offers no details.

Jesus answers him with Scripture. “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.” (v. 4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3).

Jesus 1, Satan 0.

In the second temptation the devil seems to throw all caution to the wind, like he just can’t contain himself anymore.  The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” (v. 5-6)  Where I heard a sneer in the first temptation, I hear desperate desire in this one. He is betraying what he wants more than anything, to be God himself and see God humiliated at his feet. If he had a physical body he’d have been drooling at this point.

Jesus answers with Scripture again. “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ ” (v. 8, quoting Deut. 6:13)  

Jesus 2, Satan 0.

As exhausted, hungry, and thirsty as Jesus was after 40 days of fasting in the desert, could he really have been tempted by these things? My NIV notes say that Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut to world domination, thus avoiding the necessity of the cross. Maybe, but I doubt if the devil really understood what the cross was all about at that point. If he had, he might not have been in such a hurry to see Jesus get strung up there after he failed here.

And the devil doesn’t seem to have noticed that he betrayed his own dependency upon God in that second temptation. He says that all authority has been given to him. That implies an authority higher than Satan which gave him that authority. Satan doesn’t own the world. He just somehow (Genesis 3) has been given authority over it, like the owner of a building giving the authority to run it over to a property manager. 

By the third temptation, the devil seems to be losing his temper. The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (v. 9-11, quoting Psalm 91:11-12.)

It’s like the school bully trying to pressure someone into doing something stupid. “C’mon, just do it. Do it! DO IT!” If Jesus WAS God and jumped, then the devil would have tricked God into defying his own word about tempting God. If Jesus WASN’T God, then he at least would have the fun of watching some pathetic loser plummet to his death. 

But Jesus just answered him with Scripture one more time. “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (v. 12, quoting Deut. 6:16.)

Jesus for the Win! Three to Zip.

I’m left wondering if the devil really was self-deluded enough to think he could pull off the ultimate coup and make God worship him. We see from Isaiah 14 that he certainly thinks he deserves the job of ruling the universe. And when is evil ever logical? When we look at all the great tyrants in history, we see men whose lust for domination leads usually to madness and always, inevitably, to their ruin in death. Yet, men still become tyrants. History be damned. 

Matthew’s version of this story ends with Jesus rebuking Satan and sending him away, and the devil having no option but to leave, once again showing who the REAL boss is here. 

This meeting of pure evil and pure good, face to face, got me to thinking about the character of God versus the character of the devil. In the next two weeks I am going to compare and contrast the two. I think anyone who considers the scriptures would find it impossible to believe that good and evil are opposites, two sides of the same coin. It just isn’t so. One is the real thing, the other just a cheap counterfeit. SPOILER ALERT: Shame on anyone who thinks Jesus and the devil are equals/brothers.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  Acts 10:9-13