The God of Peace

The second Advent focus is peace. Peace means so much more than the kids are quiet and not arguing so I can read my favorite book. It’s also more than an absence of war between nations. What follows is an article I wrote a few years ago about the true meaning of peace.

In November 2012, my family and I went to College Station for an RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) reunion. RUF has been on campus at Texas A&M for more than 25 years. The best part of the whole weekend was hearing my former campus minister, Chris Yates, preach. I am so thankful for him and his family and for all I learned in my years at RUF.

Pastor Yates preached from 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.(NASB)

While I’m not going to summarize the whole of his excellent sermon (you can listen to it here), I want to share and expound on one of the points he made.

Pastor Yates opened by discussing what it means that God is a “God of peace.” Since it comes in the opening or closing parts of Paul’s letters, it is easy to skim over it and not really consider the importance of those words. What kind of peace is Paul referring to? Political peace? No, there wasn’t political peace in Paul’s day any more than there is today. How about world peace? Is there world peace? Was there then? No, there isn’t and wasn’t. Well, since Paul isn’t lying, it must mean something else. What other kind of peace is there?

Pastor Yates then pointed us to the verse in Luke 2:14:

Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased. (NASB)

And then to the hymn, Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

The peace that Paul refers to is the peace of “God and sinners reconciled.” What joyful news this is! As the country preacher once said, “God ain’t mad no more!”

This was such a timely reminder for me. I had had a particularly difficult week, and not just the disappointing election results. In troubled times, it is easy to despair. But when we remember that God, through the work of Christ, has defeated sin and death and has reconciled us to Himself, we can lift our eyes and rejoice. When we remember that God is still at work, in the world and in our lives sanctifying us, we can be at peace. Because we are at peace with God, we can be at peace in our lives. What better news is there?

In our culture, it’s in vogue to treat this glorious gospel message with disdain, and not just outside the church. Plenty of scholars, theologians, and pastors will say that it’s wrong to focus on the salvation of God’s people. As Peter Enns has said, “The gospel is not about how you get saved.” They say we’re missing the big picture of the work that God is doing to redeem the cosmos. As Dr. Tim Keller has said:

The whole purpose of salvation is to cleanse and purify this material world. … [T]he whole purpose of salvation is to make this world a great place. … God sees this world as not a temporary means to an end of salvation, but actually salvation is a temporary means to an end – to the renewal of creation. Saving souls is a means to an end of cultural renewal.

It seems to me that while it is certainly true that God is at work in the world and that there is an ultimate renewal/restoration/re-creation coming that will include the whole of the creation, that as a culture we’ve lost sight of the depths and seriousness of our sin. The weight of our sins, from Adam down to the believers yet to be born, was so severe, the cost of our sins was so high, the chasm between God and man brought about by our sin was so great, that God Himself DIED to pay the penalty. Let me say that again. God DIED. Because of me. Because He LOVES me. Because He has called me by name and written my name on the palm of His hand. Do you not feel the weight of that? Is there anything that could possibly be better news?

Apart from Christ, we are sinners, separated from God, bearing the weight of our sins, unable to save ourselves, but that’s not the end of the story. The God of peace has come, has redeemed His people, is at work sanctifying them Himself, and will come again to present them as holy and blameless. This Sunday, I was reminded of His love for me, of all He has done, is doing, and will do for me. Oh, what joy!

When we sang “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” that Sunday, these words struck me anew:

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.

Thank God for the peace He’s given us through Christ!

Day 8: Thankful for God’s Sovereignty

Today I’m especially thankful that God is sovereign over all. There is so much more that I could say, but I think this new song from Chris Tomlin really says it well:

You hear me when I call
You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night
It cannot hide the light
Whom shall I fear?

You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield
Though trouble linger still
Whom shall I fear?

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies is always by my side
The One who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies is always by my side

My strength is in Your name
For You alone can save
You will deliver me
Yours is the victory
Whom shall I fear?
Whom shall I fear?

And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in Your hands
I’m holding on to Your promises
You are faithful
You are faithful

[Publishing: © 2012 sixsteps Songs / Worship Together Music / Alletrop Music (BMI) (Admin. at EMICMGPublishing.com)
Written by Chris Tomlin and Ed Cash]

Day 7: Thankful for my church home

After all that my family went through a couple of years ago, I am so very thankful to be in a church that preaches the Gospel unashamedly. An article I read this week reminded me again how much I appreciate our pastors and their willingness to stand firm. Pastor Tim Challies’ article is about “niceness” and how it can hide a person’s rebellion from God. He uses Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, as an example:

Is there anyone nicer than Joel Osteen? Yet is there anyone whose message has less of the gospel and more anti-biblical nonsense? You can watch him in this video, sitting with Oprah, receiving accolades, nicely, smilingly leading an eager crowd farther and farther from the cross. He is nice, but he, too, will nice you straight to the gates of hell, flashing that brilliant smile all the while.

Pastor Challies goes on to say:

Christians are called by God to stand firm on what the Bible says is true, no matter how counter-cultural, and no matter how odious to the spirit of the age. When Christians do this we are so often portrayed as being unpleasant or disagreeable, the very opposite of nice. We need to allow ourselves to be portrayed as not nice. We cannot afford to allow niceness to be a fruit of the Spirit along with the rest. It may be impossible to be nice when we stand with firm conviction on what the Bible says about marriage, about the value of unborn children, or any other area where culture conflicts with Scripture. We need to be okay with that, as long as the fruit of the Spirit is present in its place. If we are to be nice at all, we must first be full of love, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and the other character qualities that are genuinely reflective of the Spirit.

In our former church, a pastor preached that Christians will be the most popular people around, if they’re living like Jesus. I’m still not sure how that jives with the whole of Scripture and what actually happened to Jesus. While I know we are to be at peace with all men, as much as it depends on us, the simple truth is that the Gospel is offensive, as Pastor Challies reminds us.

Thank you, Pastor Dave and Pastor Dennis for preaching the Word.

Thirty Days of Thanks: Days 3, 4, 5, and 6

I’m seriously behind again in my Days of Thanks. However, it works for me today, because my next four blessings to be thankful for are my boys. I’ve been blessed beyond measure to be married to such a wonderful, godly man. He truly is everything I didn’t know I wanted. My next three blessings are my sweet sons. I love them so very much.

Thirty Days of Thanks: Days 1 and 2

I realize that I’m starting a day late, but better late than never.

I am very thankful that I am a sinner saved by grace. There is nothing in the world that means more to me than this. I am a child of God, bought by the precious blood of Christ. Nothing can separate me from His love, and no one can pluck me out of His hand.

There are many theologians and pastors that say that the message of the Gospel isn’t about how a sinner is saved from her sins. I respectfully disagree. In a world filled with sin, death, sadness, pain, suffering, and separation from God, it is the best possible news that God has saved us, because we certainly can’t save ourselves.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:18-39 ESV)