Advent of Jesus: Peace

Isaiah painted a picture of something we all want to see. “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever” (32:16-17)

The advent of Jesus heralds the coming of an age of peace. He is “wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

In a world of terrorism, doesn’t the advent of peace sound like good news?

In a time of division and political feuding, doesn’t the advent of peace refresh your heart?

In seasons of uncertainty and fear, doesn’t the advent of peace calm your soul?

The peace of Jesus is counter-intuitive. A disciple of Jesus enjoys peace most when the world is least peaceful. Perhaps why we call it “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, [which] will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7-9).

One of my favorite moments in the story of Jesus happened just after the resurrection. The disciples had locked themselves in a room because they were afraid. Their leader had been slaughtered. Their movement was over. Their own lives were at risk. Jesus appeared to them—the locked door bothered him no more than the sealed tomb did—and simply said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). The passage continues: “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”

The calmest day without Jesus brings no peace. A storm with Jesus has no power.

Advent of Jesus – Hope

A long time ago, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote to remind believers of the three comings (Latin: advent) of Jesus. Jesus arrived in the flesh at Bethlehem, in our hearts daily, and in glory at the end of time. In the 13th-16th centuries, the church found the tradition of celebrating his arrival in Bethlehem and anticipating his future return during this season particularly helpful.

I find this season helpful, too. As materialism and secularization continue to increase in our world, choosing to remind myself of what it means that Jesus came in the flesh becomes even more important. Society wants me to focus on gifts. Advent reminds me to think about the giver.

In the Advent tradition, there are four gifts of Jesus that are celebrated in the four weeks leading up to Christmas: hope, peace, joy, and love. Without Jesus, these words would be hollow. With him, they explode with life and power.

Because of Jesus, we have hope. Hope is very different than wish. Wish is just a desire. Hope is joyful expectation.

Before Jesus, people lived “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12) Now, we “rejoice in hope” (Romans 12:12) because of our union with Christ.

In a world without Jesus, there is no hope. We are slaves to our sins and desires. We fight to be one of the strong who survive. We claw to maximize our short time on this planet. Suffering is calamity and pain knows no end.

But in a world with hope, the blackest of Fridays becomes good Friday. The cemetery is no longer a death sentence; it’s just an interruption. With Jesus, we never suffer alone. We have the promise of something better on the horizon. The advent of Jesus changes our lives by giving us hope. May we live in that hope each day!

On Civility

I don’t know if our country is more divided than it has ever been. I wasn’t alive during the Civil War, so I really can’t comment on that. There is definitely a sense that we have lost our ability to have reasonable discussions about important issues.

The Bible has lots of somethings to say about that.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. For the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)

More could be said – but first, these passages must be heard and lived.

Our Attitudes Towards “Our” Stuff

Jerry Bridges wrote that there are three attitudes we can have towards money and possessions.[1]

View #1: “What’s yours is mine; I will take it.”

View #2: “What’s mine is mine; I will keep it.”

Christians recognize that view number 1 is the mindset of the thief and the cheat. It runs afoul of the eighth commandment. Nobody likes a thief!

What people don’t realize is that view #2 is equally disastrous. Jesus took on view #2 in Luke 12:13-21 when he told the parable of the Rich Fool who tore down his barns to build bigger ones. His only focus was on self. View #2 becomes even more dangerous when you realize that it causes view #1. Do you remember the parable that Nathan the prophet told David about the rich man who stole his neighbor’s only lamb? He did it because he didn’t want to give up what was his. Jesus also destroys this view by reminding us to store up incorruptible treasure that thieves can’t steal and rust can’t destroy (Matthew 6:19-20). As bad as view #2 is, it is by far the most common view of money and possessions—even in the church. So what’s the Biblical view?

View #3: “What’s mine is God’s; I will share it.”

Paul told the Ephesians, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28)

When we recognize that everything we have is a gift from God, and we remember that everything we have is only temporary, it becomes a little easier to open our hands to those in need and be a blessing in a broken world.


[1] Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. Page 91

The Polar Bear Devil

The polar bear is one of nature’s most formidable creatures. Biologists consider them apex predators: they are the top of their food chains. No creature sees them as prey. Put simply, you don’t want to meet an apex predator on your next camping trip.

While the polar bear is king, the walrus isn’t exactly a wimp. Their large size, thick skin, and tusks make them difficult targets even for the mighty polar bears. The walrus outweighs the polar bear and has some aquatic tricks up its sleeve that make it a less appealing dinner than many other arctic creatures.

When a polar bear decides that walrus sounds good for lunch, it rarely attacks directly. Instead, it finds a herd of them and charges aggressively. While a polar bear generally wouldn’t win a battle against a pod of walruses, the walrus doesn’t know that. When the bear attacks, the walruses panic, charge, and stampede. Generally some walruses are crushed and wounded as the others escape.

I wonder if there isn’t a lesson to be learned here. Did you know that a fire at a movie theater isn’t usually as dangerous as the evacuation to avoid it? Many have been injured in the panic who would have been safe from the fire.

The devil likely acts a lot like that polar bear. A Christian’s defensive armor is far stronger than any weapon the devil has to throw at him, so he is reduced to two main tactics: separate him from the herd, or cause the herd to panic and wound him.

Can you think of someone who got separated from the body and the devil was able to pull him or her away? Can you think of someone who was hurt by the Christians around him because they were afraid of something else?

We don’t always realize that fear and isolation have real consequences. It is no wonder that Peter wrote, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Maybe he acts like a polar bear, too.

Cease & Desist!

After six days of creation, God “finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2) God certainly wasn’t tired. He didn’t need a break. He doesn’t nap or sleep! (See Psalm 121:4). So why rest?

If he didn’t need the rest, who does? You know the answer. Unlike God, you and I need rest. This isn’t a merely biological phenomenon. The God of the Universe could have designed us in any way he saw fit, yet he chose to make us spend 25%-33% of our lives asleep. Why?

I can’t speak for God. There’s not a verse that spells it out, but I have a theory. I think God has us sleep for two reasons: sleep causes us to recognize our limits and sleep brings us pleasure.

Did you know that a driver who has been awake for a full 24 hours responds as poorly as someone whose blood alcohol is .10? One study said that teens in school who scored C’s slept thirty minutes less per night than those who made A’s. We simply can’t function without sleep. God built into the human biology a reminder that we are not omniscient and omnipotent creatures without limits. Like it or not, we have to stop eventually! Sleep is the gentle tyrant. It can be delayed, but not defeated.

God also gives us rest as a gift. You can’t beat a good night’s sleep! The clichés are true: a good conscience is the best pillow. Peace makes for good rest. Trusting in God and living right before him are the best sleeping pills on the market. Psalms 127:2 says that God gives sleep to those he loves. He watches over us.

Let’s make sure that we honor the idea that God built into us. We need sleep nightly. We need Sabbath weekly. We need holidays periodically. We need Sabbatical occasionally. God made us that way!

Sing the Songs

Singing at a Lectureship

When we worship, I don’t care if you sound like a cat stuffed with gravel going through the garbage disposal, you still need to sing. Eric likes to remind us that singing isn’t just for singers, it’s for believers.

James says that if we’re joyful, we should sing songs of praise (James 5:13). When Paul and Silas were in a Philippian dungeon at midnight, they sang through their suffering (Acts 16:25). Before he left the Last Supper to meet his betrayer, Jesus and the disciples took time to sing a hymn (Matthew 26:30).

I don’t love every song we sing. That’s not the point. There are some songs I know better than others. That’s also not the point. We sing as a “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15) to “teach” and “admonish” one another (Colossians 3:16). So, it’s important to do the best we can, to join in, and to participate for our own sake and for others.

When I sing “Jesus Loves Me,” I remember a heart-breaking funeral for my neighbor’s child who died of SIDS. “I Am Bound for the Land of Canaan,” takes me back to my grandparents’ RV in the hills of east Tennessee. (Whenever we went to Arby’s, my grandmother would sing, “I am bound for the land of Arby’s” instead!) When I sing “I Love You, Lord,” I remember standing in the cold water of the baptistery at Camp Leatherwood after I was baptized and singing those words. “Freely, Freely” takes me back to a mission trip with Leslie in New Zealand. “Heavenly Sunlight” reminds me of how much Rilla Walp liked that song.  “Lord, Be There” brought me comfort when I was lonely and afraid. “This World Is Not My Home” reminds me of when I first tried out at Burns.

I could keep going, but I’m out of room. If you’ve been in the church a long time, you could make your own list. My point is that these songs stick with us. So give yourself and the church a powerful gift by singing them with us.

Ponzi Schemes and Justice

Human beings have an innate desire for justice. When we’ve been slighted, we are so quick to shout, “That’s not fair!” We want someone to make it right.

I read in the news that 67 people were convicted last year for running Ponzi-schemes. These crooks—the ones who got caught—stole more than $2.3 in 2016 alone.

Here’s the trivia contest: what was the average prison sentence for the crooks who stole over $100 million? 14 years. Does that sound just to you? They spent an average of 21 days in prison for each $1 million stolen. What do you think?

Now consider this: the average federal prison sentence for robbery is almost 10 years. The average amount stolen? $2,898. If you do the math, that’s the equivalent of 1,211,160 days in prison for each $1 million stolen. Robbers are sentenced 57,000 times more harshly than Ponzi schemers.

I know I’m comparing apples and oranges. I know that federal robbery crimes tend to be violent crimes. If someone steals from you in person, we throw the book them. If they steal on the computer, we slap them on the wrist. It’s also worth remembering that Ponzi schemers tend to be very wealthy and connected while your garden-variety robber isn’t.

We humans aren’t very good at justice. Even when we try, we let some guilty escape and some innocents suffer. Don’t be deceived: God is perfectly just. He is the judge who is never outmaneuvered, the prosecutor who is never foiled by a crafty defense, and the jury who is never biased.

Isaiah tells us, “I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.” (Isaiah 61:8)

Virtues Deadly to Deadly Vices

Christians for generations have spoken of seven deadly sins. The list is adapted from Proverbs 6:16-19 and modified to describe seven sins that seem to be especially potent. Though we can’t consider any sin “safe,” these seem particularly powerful in the record of scripture.

Every sin denies some truth from God, especially these seven. Have you ever spent time to think about what the virtue denied by each of these sins could be?

Vice Virtue
Pride Humility
Greed Generosity
Envy Love
Anger Kindness
Lust Self control
Gluttony Temperance and faith
Sloth Zeal

While we would do well to identify these sins and run from them, it is also effective to identify these virtues and pursue them, because these vice and virtues will not co-exist for any length of time. So when you feel yourself tempted towards envy, focus your energy on love. When your anger gets out of line, plan acts of kindness and say kind words. In so doing, we will find our lives defined by the pursuit of righteousness rather than the fear of wickedness.

It’s just so hard to be a Christian…

It’s sure hard to be a Christian in 2017. Our culture doesn’t share our values and our lives are so busy, it’s hard to fit the Lord into our schedules.

It was hard to be a Christian in 1914. A war to end all wars brought new kinds of misery and suffering on humanity never before imagined. More Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in the 19 that preceded it.

It was hard to be a Christian in 1862. Brothers in Christ in blue were shooting at brothers in Christ in gray. The issues of government, slavery, and politics tore the church in two.

It was hard to be a Christian in the early 1600s. If your understanding of the Bible didn’t match the king of England’s, it might cost you your life.

It was hard to be a Christian in 1517. Corrupt church governments sold indulgences, trafficked in ancient relics, and were morally bankrupt.

It was hard to be a Christian before 1455. Prior to Gutenberg’s movable type printing press, almost nobody had access to a copy of the Bible.

It was hard to be a Christian in 1320. The church was so polluted that Dante Alighieri wrote a story of a trip through hell, and he dedicated several entire “circles” of torment to the prevailing church leaders.

It was hard to be a Christian in the late 600s and early 700s. Mohammed’s followers were spreading Islam at an unimaginable rate.

It was hard to be a Christian prior to 311 when Constantine’s Edict of Toleration was passed, legalizing Christianity and recognizing it as a legitimate religion exempted from persecution.

It was hard to be a Christian before the end of the first century, when the New Testament was completed and widely distributed.

It was hard to be a Christian in AD 50, when the Jewish establishment tried to delegitimize belief in Jesus, the Judaizing party tried to neuter the gospel, and the Roman government and culture delighted in polytheism, pedophilia, and temple prostitution.