Posted in Faith

Knowing His Invisible Kingdom

Know God, Know Peace

“Heaven is not here, it’s there,” Elizabeth Elliot writes. Jesus put it this way: “Store up for yourself treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).

We Christians know this truth, and yet we often have just as much trouble with a divided heart as any other human. We concentrate too much effort on thinking about the clothes we wear, the electronics we own, the kind of house we call home and too little time focusing on how great God is, how able He is to provide for each and every true need, just as He has promised.

Elliot continues,

“If we were given all we wanted here, our hearts would settle for this world rather than the next. God is forever luring us up and away from this one, wooing us to Himself and His still invisible Kingdom, where we will certainly find what we so keenly long for.”

In recent years, I am discovering that what I make complicated, God simplifies. I keenly long for peace, and yet I have spent a lifetime trying to accomplish things as if peace can be earned rather than accepted. If I could do enough, then I would feel better. If I was feeling nervous or off, then I obviously hadn’t been doing enough.

But God’s love for us isn’t based on a formula. He offers the gift of His grace, and when we truly accept it, we will know peace.

I know that intellectually, but only recently have I begun to understand the spiritual truth of God’s gift of grace. I have discovered that truth by following His instruction to keep my mind always on Him. That means I spend a lot more time thinking about the things around me I am thankful for. If I feel afraid, I have a conversation with the One who actually knows my future and has already planned for it. The more I put myself in conversation with God, the more I think about His Word, the more I am beginning to see the world from God’s view instead of my own.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding,” the Proverbs tell us (3:5). Take every thought and make it captive to Christ, Paul exhorts believers, and “set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2). A mind focused on God puts on the armor of God, and a mind shielded by the armor of God is a mind truly at peace—no matter what the world throws its way.

My focus has shifted gradually. At first, thinking about God, especially when I would rather be pouting or brooding, seemed awkward or artificial. But very quickly, I discovered that talking to God about things I was grateful for and asking about things I felt unsure about, even little things like sweet dreams, started to become more and more like second nature.

The really exciting thing about keeping my mind on God is that I know I am just beginning in this practice. I am sure there are times ahead when I will forget, get caught up in the things of this world even though I know better. But there are also plenty of opportunities for me to get better and better at putting God first. The rewards of balance and peace that putting God first brings are truly a glimpse of the invisible Kingdom for which we keenly long.

In Christ,
Ramona

 

Advertisements
Posted in Faith

Embrace This Four-Letter Word

hope

God keeps His promises. In the early sixth century, after a forced march of some 900 miles, the Israelites sat huddled in captivity in far away Babylon knowing the truth of that statement. Having denied God’s sovereignty by worshiping other gods, ignoring His commandments, and otherwise living up to their reputation as a “stiff-necked” people, the nation of Israel finally faced the fruition of God’s promise to take away His gift of the promised land if they did not change their ways.

But even in their exile, God, who never changes, remembered His love for them. Jeremiah the prophet tells the remnant of Israelites who remained in their homeland:

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (29:11)

God’s gift of hope threads its way throughout His Word, and every time, what begins in hope ends in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Sara laughed because she thought herself too old to have a child, and yet Abraham is the patriarch of a nation. David, a humble shepherd, was hunted down and nearly killed by Saul and yet his son, Solomon, eventually ruled over a kingdom whose riches we can only imagine. A virgin gave birth to a child whose death on the Cross fulfilled the Law and saved the world.

Sometimes, when we get caught up in the hectic, busy business of living day-to-day, we forget God’s promise of hope counts for much more than our everlasting life. His hope means that in this life of trouble and woe and uncertainty, we have the promise that God, who sees all, has the endgame in sight. He wants us to have peace. He longs for us to be at rest in our trust of Him.

Jesus reminds us,

“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. . . . I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world!” (John 14:27 & 16:33)

Leaning into the hope that is the promise of a world overcome by our Savior takes practice and patience. We have to learn to listen to our self-talk, correct a mind that wants to embrace gloom and doom instead of the love of God, and know the truths and promises that we believe so easily during times of joy so that we do not forsake them in times of trouble.

Hope offers peace when we wonder at the machinations of even the greatest government in the world, as we wait for test results in a crowded doctor’s office or worry over the bills we cannot pay. It is that feeling, deep down inside of us, that we will find comfort and rest, no matter how dim our present seems. It is the smile of a stranger on a bad day, the unexpected refund just when we need it most, the tiny victory of a good report from the doctor even when your condition is fatal.

Hope is for the courageous, but God gives courage. The world is always ready to mock those who claim a faith in God’s goodness and love. But those who believe have in their hearts a higher goal than the worries of this world can hold. They know the victory that comes with believing in the hope of heaven and embracing the evidences of our hope on earth.

 

 

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Why We Remember

remember photofunia

Memory is a tricky thing.  We all have a tendency to remember events in such a way that makes us look the best.  Sometimes, or in some areas, we remember events so that we can see ourselves in our worst possible light, feeding our own insecurities or personal issues.  The inability of we humans to remember accurately is part of what makes eye witnesses so unreliable.

Having created us, God knows our faults.  He knows that we will have to consciously make the effort to remember our own fallacies in order to maintain our healthy fear of Him, the fear that is the knowledge of His awesomeness and makes us want to worship Him and do what is right.  On their trek through the desert once they escaped Egypt, even though God perpetually saved the Israelites from their own follies, they seem to fail to remember.  They complain, they want to return to Egypt, they doubt God will keep His promises, they worship other gods.

Because God’s memory never fails, He remembers His promises.  As He has Moses prepare the Israelites to finally enter the promised land, He has Moses implore them:

“Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.  And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children.  Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.  Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.  Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  (Deut. 6:4-9 NLT)

God intends to keep His promises to make Israel a great nation, but He expects them to remember His instructions.  (At one point late in the 40-year journey through the desert, God is ready to wipe out the entire bunch and begin again until Moses talks Him out of that plan because God is so disgusted by the Israelites perpetual forgetfulness and thanklessness.)  And why was the remembering of God and His promises so vital for the Israelites?  They were about to embark on the final length of their journey, into a promised land that was filled with pagan peoples who might easily tempt the Israelites into forgetting that God was the one and only, thus allowing them to slip into actions detestable to God, like making idols or touching unclean things.

But the most important reason for remembering is this:  For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the LORD our God has given us (Deut. 5:25 NLT)  In the New Testament, Grace makes a difference about our source of righteousness:  I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; Paul writes, rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.  For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. (Philippians 3:9 NLT)

Faith versus works does not lower the bar of our commitment to remembering God.  In fact, it raises it.  Paul explains:

But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. . . .I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3: 12-14  NLT)

Remembering God means forgetting the wrongs or perceived wrongs done to us by others, putting God’s wants before our own, and even forgetting what good we may have done so as not to rest on our laurels and fail to achieve all that we might through the Holy Spirit working in us.  When we remember how much God has done for us, it makes us love God even more, and it should make us love others, no matter what perceived hurts they cause us.

Remembering God also means pouring out our thankfulness to Him.  God wants to hear our gratitude and our acknowledgement that all we have and all we are, we owe to Him.  Paul implores us, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT).

Christ instructs us to pray with this attitude of gratefulness:  Our Father, who art in heaven, Christ tells us to begin, hallowed be thy name.  In acknowledging our relationship to God as Father, we are reminded that He who made everything wants to have a relationship with us.  In acknowledging His holiness, we realize how grateful we should be to have a relationship with God, to know His love for us because of grace.

When you are faced with the challenges of life, whether you are having physical problems, mental problems, work problems, family problems, or financial problems, it can be so easy to just whine to God or be mad at Him and ignore Him (as if that somehow hurts God instead of us!).  But when we are in times of peril it is even more important to remember first to be thankful, to acknowledge what God has done for us through the grace of Christ.

Finally, when we remember to be thankful, I think it makes it easier for us to be the love of Christ to those who do not yet believe, to shine His light as Christians are supposed to do.  In his book,  Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life, Abbot Christopher Jamison describes Christian patience this way:

“Patience is more subtle: it is the attempt to live out in a positive frame of mind the difficulties that come from trying to obey and love other people”

It is so easy to forget.  But a successfully run race with Christ can only be accomplished when first we remember.

 

Posted in Christianity, Faith

The Key to Peace

20131208-165651.jpg

Isn’t it strange how sometimes you hear something over and over again, but then when you hear it one day, you understand it in an entirely different or more profound way? The Elder helping our congregation prepare for Communion this morning made a key point that struck me in just such a way.

Peace, he said, only exists in the presence of Jesus.

We humans have a difficult time with abstract concepts. Peace is one of them. We have a tendency to equate peace with ideas like happiness, easy times, successful times, smooth waters on a sunny day. But, those who truly walk with Christ know peace even in the midst of great trouble.

Peace isn’t happiness or smooth sailing. Peace is a state of mind gained through an honest relationship with God that keeps one calm and centered no matter how many winds of change or trouble swirl around. At Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of God-made-man, the Christ who died for our sins and rose again, we hear more often than at other times of the year the phrase, The Prince of Peace.

I don’t usually think too much about that title for our Lord, but today’s comment in church made me pause to think about it. Usually, royal titles such as Prince are important for the things of this world. In fact, when Christ came to this Earth, He was rejected by many Jews because He did not create a Kingdom they could see and control. Instead of throwing off the chains of Roman oppression, the Messiah told His followers to turn the other cheek!

So, what’s so important about understanding what it means to call Jesus the Prince of Peace?

Before I give my answer to that question, let me point out another concept (for want of a better word) I’ve found useful lately. When I start to feel really stressed, I repeat to myself until I feel better, I know what calm feels like. As silly as that may sound to those of you who don’t often feel anxious, it actually works quite well. For one thing, I do know what calm feels like. The more I say the statement, the more I get flashbacks of times when I felt strong and able, the more I am reminded of problems I have conquered in the past that are much more serious than what is making me nervous now.

But what is really happening as I remind myself what calm feels like? What I am really doing is reminding myself of the times when I really leaned into what FAITH means–believing that God will keep His promises, including the ones where He says that He cares for me, where He tells me not to be afraid. After all, if I really believe that God has a plan for my life, shouldn’t I also believe that what happens in my life will eventually be revealed to my good?

Christ Himself emphasizes His role in knowing peace in this life:

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)

Truly accepting Christ as your Prince of Peace means facing the good and the bad in this world with a steadiness that will be hard for others to ignore. It means truly shining the light of Christ in a dark world.

Just in time for a wintry world squinting skyward for a bright and shining star.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

Peace that surpasses cat naps

20130706-172244.jpg

So, I’ve been working on emptying myself, paying attention to my thoughts, and realizing the difference between seeing people for what they need versus what they deserve.

These steps would be a hard struggle, even without a world of temptation around me. In fact, without the Spirit that dwells within me, I would find it impossible to see the narrow lane that is the way of God, much less stay anywhere near within its bounds.

Even though the love of Christ makes who I am more important than what I do, the process of being love and goodness is not without obstacles. The television beckons on a daily basis, slipping past me words and actions that would not have passed the censors when I was a child and yet are OK for even day-time airwaves. I still turn the television on. With the boon of electronic publishing, I have thousands of books at my fingertips. Do historical romances count as “clean” fiction? I doubt it. But, you’ll find quite a few of them on my Nook account.

“Do not be deceived,” Paul tells the Corinthians. “‘Bad company corrupts good morals'” (1 Cor 15:33).

The devil doesn’t show up looking like some horrible creature you want to shrink from, but as the appealing figure you only know as a deceiver if you really pay attention.

Which brings me back to the Spirit that dwells within us, the mechanism by which Christ makes “His burden light” (Matt. 11:30). Through the help of concentrating on the Spirit, we will find ourselves more sure-footed on the narrow path:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Galatians 5:16-18

The last part of Paul’s admonition to the Galatians may seem contradictory. What did he mean by not being under the Law? Remember, for one, that in the time that Jesus walked the earth, the Law had become a thing that lost sight of its main goal in overwhelming minutiae. Christ told the Pharisees it was not what was on the outside that made them unclean, but what was in their hearts, remember? In living by the Spirit, what Paul is saying is that we are no longer caught under the minutiae of the Law that gets us focused on the wrong things. Instead, with the Spirit, we are guided by the love and goodness that Christ exhibited while He was on this earth. And this kind of living, rather than losing sight of the Law, inevitably ups the ante.

This piece has turned into one of those “sinners in the hands of an angry God” kind of approaches, when it promised something very different, so let me deliver on the promise of the title. Spending time in the Spirit takes practice, just like any other skill. You build up to it. You have to commit to it. But, the more you do it, the more you realize that it is so much more rewarding than the entertainments or activities that you used to do to fill the voids in your life that simply don’t cut it any more. (And you do still seek television time and good books to read. You just find yourself liking a different variety of entertainment on television more than what once interested you.)

Whenever somebody goes through a great tragedy, we often wish them the “peace that surpasses all understanding,” the peace that comes from God alone because He alone knows the truth about what is (Philipians 4:7) . But I think we get flashes of understanding when we practice our Holy Spirit muscles.

For those of you that own a cat or dog, there is nothing more peaceful than one of these creatures curled up in perfect slumber. How many times during a week do I find myself scurrying around with chores and work, glancing up to see my cats in blissful slumber and envy them their perfect peace?

And yet, if I would just take a page out of their books, stop for a few minutes, or an hour, and go to my Father with a request for that same kind of peace, won’t He grant it? Didn’t Christ give us that very example throughout His time on earth? Look at all the examples of moments when He took Himself aside to be alone in prayer.

So, here’s to knowing the peace that surpasses my cats’ naps, to daily exercises in the Spirit, to a world of wonder when we see through the eyes of God’s love.

20130706-172332.jpg

Posted in Christian Living, Faith, Self-Help

In Search of Yoda

20130602-213904.jpg

Sometimes, when coincidences happen, you start to think maybe God is telling you something He wants you to listen to. I had just such a set of coincidences this week.

It began when I decided to grab my copy of the Oswald Chambers classic, My Utmost for His Highest, during my morning Bible reading and turned at random to the January 5 entry. Chambers has chosen for his text the episode in John’s account of the gospels where Jesus predicts Peter’s denial of Him (chapter 13). Christ tells Peter that the loyal disciple cannot follow Him at that moment. Skip ahead to the risen Christ, who reinstates Peter, ordering the “fallen” disciple in John 21 to “Follow me!”

Chambers concludes:

Between these times, Peter had denied Jesus with oaths and curses, he had come to the end of himself and all his self-sufficiency, there was not one strand of himself he would ever rely upon again, and in his destitution he was in a fit condition to receive an impartation from the risen Lord.

In other words, Peter was finally empty and ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Once he was filled with the Spirit, Peter went on to be the foundation of Christ’s church, just as the Lord had said he would be.

When I finished reading Chambers, it struck me that to know true peace and purpose in Christ, this emptying is something that we have to do over and over again. How else do we keep from being diverted by the distractions of this world–the entertainment media, our jobs, our family obligations? Some of these are things we cannot put aside, but all of them are things that should come after our commitment to the One and Only.

I think we all want to acquire the kind of calm that being rooted in the Spirit of God has to offer. With that kind of peace, no force can move us. Traffic can be bad, the weather can be horrible, the job can present one challenge too many. But for those who have emptied themselves to be filled by the Holy Ghost, there is a sense of peace, faith and hope that does not leave us.

I picture Yoda, so in tune with the Force, that even Luke’s whining does not divert him from raising the spaceship out of the water. Not even Darth Vader can divert Yoda from his centered being.

But I began by discussing coincidences. Later in the week, I happened to watch a 1962 movie, The Spiral Road. In this story about doctors in the jungles of 1936 Indonesia, a young Rock Hudson begins by denying the very existence of God. He is an ambitious doctor who is convinced that he is strong enough in himself to defeat all the challenges that trying to offer medical treatment in the middle of a jungle among people from a different culture present.

In the movie’s climax, Hudson takes on a task two other doctors before him have failed to complete, despite their faith–overcoming the tricks and resistance of a local witch doctor in an isolated camp near a village where people need medical attention. Because Hudson has no faith, he is convinced he will defeat the witch doctor through his superior mind and logic.

In the end, Hudson’s mind fails him. He becomes as empty as the two doctors who have failed before him. And in that moment of emptiness, Hudson cries out to the very God he said did not exist!

So, I think it is high time I pay more attention to the concept of my own emptying and the subsequent filling by the Holy Ghost. After all, when I have a difficult time clearing my mind from all its random thoughts in order to meditate for five minutes in yoga class, how am I making room for the Almighty to come in? No wonder I experience anxiety instead of peace!

But this is a journey that is just beginning, again. I have decided to share it as I go. I want to concentrate on practical steps I should be taking to grow closer to God. In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” I want to do every day, in the peace of God.

So, I start with the promise of what we have because of our faith. In his letter to the Philipians, Paul explains it this way:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (4:11-13)

A mind that has learned to be content no matter what is a mind that understands how to empty itself and accept the peace of the Holy Spirit. I appreciate in advance any and all thoughts on how you manage this process in your own walk with God, the One with Whom there is no coincidence.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

God Is Our Hiding Place

20120914-214405.jpgActions speak louder than words.

And sometimes, when actions speak so loudly, it’s hard to find words to say anyway.

But there is one place where all the words we will ever need have already been recorded for us, and in times such as these, turning to those words is the most powerful thing we can do.

Do you have your go-to verses? The words that have spoken to you so strongly through your years of faith that they pop into your head whenever you face troubling times?

We all should have them. The fact that we don’t always reflect on them before we act is the reason why grace is our only means of salvation. The fact that I have them but still let anxiety get the best of me is something I’m still working on.

I think we all should write a book with the title “Verses I Am Glad I Have Read.” Better still, I think we all should memorize the verses that would go in our book by that title. My time would be better spent on such a task than many of the mindless things I do during a day. And when actions speak louder than words, then those verses could be louder still.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27 KJV).