Monthly Archives: June 2014

Knowing Your Peace

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV]

Counterfeit peace is the greatest enemy of true peace with God, especially during an exhausting war. After protracted engagement with the enemy the thought of living at peace is attractive, even beguiling. No one wants to spend their lives waging a war with no end, or being constantly vigilante for sneak attack. Worn down by an ever present battle the combatant will be physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually fatigued. It is at such times two things will happen, are guaranteed to happen, for the Christian.

First, the Spirit of God in us will protect us from the results of the assaults of the enemy, even when it seems our enemy is winning. We cannot be taken away from God nor will He allow those who are His to walk away from Him. Secondly, the enemy will do what the enemy does. He will lie, offering a reasonable compromise, or something which seems reasonable to the fatigued warrior. Which do we believe? Do we believe the promise of a liar or the promise of One Who Cannot Lie?

Our peace is not dependent upon our actions, the conflict in which we find ourselves, or the work of any created being. Those who promise must be able to deliver and want to fulfill what is promised. We must view, not the promise but the one who has made the promise, as able to deliver. We cannot look to the promise itself, or our understanding of the promise. Bent by sin will cause a misinterpretation of every promise. We will manipulate and coerce and control the promise to get what we want, leaving behind the true promise for an unreasonable expectation. Our enemy wants us to focus on anything other than the Great Promiser.

Satan disguises himself in order to deceive. He disguised himself as a serpent and lied to Eve and Adam. They listened to him and were driven away from a place of peace to a world of conflict. Since that time, throughout history, people have lied and been trained to lie.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. [2 Corinthians 11:13-15 ESV]

We first lie to ourselves and then to others. There is a remedy.

We must embrace God and allow our attitude toward and about the world to change as He changes us, preparing us for eternity. Such a simple statement reveals deep and complicated ramifications. If it were truly simple, and perhaps we complicate it more than we need, then those who are indwelt by the Spirit, our promise and guarantee of salvation, would instantly recognize the truth and every lie seeking to compromise truth. Paul would have written one letter, not more than a dozen, and perhaps dozens more we no longer have, giving easy to follow instructions to the Church. We would win the war with sin, raging within each Christian, and never compromise.

God does not want us to win this war with sin. This is something His Son has already done. When He said “it is finished” [John 19:30] He declared the work He came to accomplish was done and would never be undone. We cannot undo His work. We can view His work as incomplete. Doing so reveals an absolute misunderstanding of who God is and why Jesus came. God wants us to know we are His and to act like we are His.

Peace is not something for which we should strive. It is to rest in what is finished by the One who promises and will deliver on what is promised. We are in the midst of a war internally filled with conflict and surrounded by promises of more lies. Having peace under such circumstances is a powerful testimony to the truth of God.

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Sanctuary

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace. [Ephesians 2:13-14 ESV]

In Scripture, a sanctuary is a place where God dwells.

We have made sanctuaries less divine and more anthropocentric (man centered). Like a garden, a sanctuary is a place where there is peace from the wars of the world in which we live. Sanctuaries have become places where man may visit, but may not stay and may not bring weapons or tools of destruction. Sanctuaries are places where men may run when pursued by others and find safety from those who wish to harm them, like the cities of refuge in Israel’s history.

Only incidentally will a sanctuary, whether a building or a place, point toward God. Herein is the problem. We are centered upon ourselves, making the individual the greatest and most important in our world. This is an attitude, not a fact. Just because we think ourselves more valuable, more important, or the center of our own universe, does not mean we are. We have abandoned the knowledge that God is the center of all, created and eternal.

In the center of the Garden of Eden were two trees. One was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the other was the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve were told to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were told they could eat from the Tree of Life. In fact, God said they could eat from any tree in the garden except from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were given permission to eat from the Tree of Life until they had eaten from the other. Then they were expelled from the garden so they wouldn’t eat from the Tree of Life, and live forever in their sin.

In the middle of the camp of the Israelites stood the Tent of Meeting. On all sides of the Tent were the tribes of Israel. Were they placed such to protect the Tent? Or was the Tent placed in the middle as the center of their life and existence? Here, in the Tent, God said He would dwell. This Tent was called a Sanctuary. “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it” [Exodus 25:8-9 ESV]. This place was holy, set apart for the sole purpose of fulfilling God’s desires. In the center of this sanctuary, the Tent of Meeting, was the Most Holy Place. Within the Most Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant containing the broken Ten Commandments and the Mercy Seat, the covering upon which was poured the annual offering of blood to atone for the sins of the people.

When Satan tempted Jesus he took Him to a high mountain and showed Him all of the kingdoms of the world. Where else can you see all things except from the center? Satan asked himself the question “who is the greatest in eternity?” and answered himself pointing to himself, falling from his high position before God, made himself the self-proclaimed center.

What did Satan say to Jesus? “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” [Matthew 4:9 ESV]. Satan promised Jesus something he could not deliver. He may have given the impression all kingdoms were his by placing himself in the center of the world. Jesus exposed the lie with the truth. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” [Matthew 4:10 ESV].

In the center of the garden was the Tree of Life. I believe this Tree of Life was a type of Christ, the Creator at the center of His creation. Man cannot live while at enmity with God.

In the center of the camp was the means God used to release the sinful person from the judgment and justified sentence of their sin. The Mercy Seat is a type of Christ and the blood poured over it, hiding the broken sin from the eyes of God, is Christ’s own. Man cannot live forever covered in sin. None of the kingdoms shown to Christ will last. Only His kingdom and the citizens of His kingdom, who are covered with the blood of Christ and have eaten from the Tree of Life.

Christ is our Sanctuary and our Peace.

Peaceful Garden

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 18:2-3 ESV]

In the beginning there was peace in the Garden of Eden. It is never explicitly stated the garden was filled with peace. Gardens carry the assumption of peace, tranquility and order. Even now one goes to a garden, not to fight or hunt, but to contemplate and enjoy the work of the gardener and the handiwork of God. We assume there was peace in the Garden of Eden.

Originally, the word “garden” meant “protected” or “fenced in,” not that the rest of the world created by God was wild and untamed (another assumption). Adam was given the world, control over it, the goal of filling it with people and the task of working it, or bringing it under his control. He was at peace with the world, with the animals, with the weather, with his wife, and with God.

Enter sin, lose peace. With the corruption of sin Adam lost peace within the Garden, expelled from it so he could not reach out and eat from the tree of life and live forever corrupted by sin. He lost dominion over the world, fighting and struggling to make the ground grow food. He lost peace with those around him, those who came after him, replaced with contention, anger and hatred. He lost peace with God, separated from Him, the source of his very life.

Neither he, nor we, have lost the desire for peace. Instead, we try to manufacture peace according to our corrupted view and expectations. Yet, what gives us peace may force disturbance on others. In our selfish and self-centered posture we cease to care about others and especially we cease to take into account God. We now build our own gardens, our own refuges, fenced in to keep out the violence and discontent of the world. We grasp for control not realizing the more we fight for control the less control we have. God did not create us to be isolated from Him. Our high fences and dense the walls containing our self made gardens exclude God, sacrificing a peace only He supplies.

When the disciples argued over whom was the greatest in God’s kingdom, they did the very thing Satan had done before falling from grace, losing his position before God. He lied to himself, thinking himself as great as, even greater than, God. So, the disciples were lying to themselves, vying for a position only Jesus could rightfully occupy. But Jesus does not rebuke them, put them in their proper place or expel them from His presence. He did not come to lord it over the world, or even take what is rightfully His. He came, with the eternal image of the perfect servant, to offer Himself and to call to Himself those who are His.

He gave them an example in a child. Unless you turn away from your twisted, sinful attitudes, reverse yourselves and stop growing like the world wants you to grow, and be like a child, you will never even enter His kingdom. You cannot be a part of an eternal kingdom and carry in anything belonging to the world. Our sinful world and all in which it contains, cannot be reconciled with God’s kingdom. Growing and learning  according to the dictates of sin cause inability to do what a citizen of God’s kingdom does, or be how God wishes.

Children are naturally selfish, as corrupted by sin as all others. They must learn, or be taught, to sin in a sophisticated manner. Conversely, they are the most emotionally trusting individuals, recognizing the authority of big people, especially their parents. Children do not know, intellectually or intimately, the desire to displace those in authority. They will love, huddle against, find comfort in the presence of even an abusive parent. Until they learn differently.

Jesus tells us to be like a child in the only relationship which brings peace. Relinquish control of ourselves to Him. Stop trying to be the authority, the king of our own garden. We will never have complete peace while in this world. We do hope for peace in eternity. We glimpse peace, never quite comprehending the peacefulness of peace. Only when we arrive in eternity will we truly have peace. Until then, we must recognize our peace with God is more important than any felt peace offered by the world. For, where God is there is real, eternal peace.

Big Trees

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” [Matthew 18:1 ESV]

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is the home to giant trees, sequoias, mammoth in size, ancient and battered and strong. The park does not have the biggest of these trees but once you see them it’s hard to imagine anything bigger. California’s coastal redwoods are tall and old. Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada mountains are large in girth and ancient, some growing for 2500 years and more.

As you enter the park you drive by a tree felled by loggers in the 1850’s. It took 20 men 22 days to fell a tree 96 feet in circumference. You can line up 20 people, side-by-side, across the breadth of the stump. Seeing a challenge to their strength and endurance the loggers cut it down. Their strength was comparatively puny when you imagine the strength and endurance of the tree they killed. They would live a few more years, it another thousand. They, impressed with its hugeness, decided to conquer it, ignoring its majesty. They used the tools of their trade, and the corrupted image of God in them, to decide its fate. Men, compelled by a sinful nature, attacked and destroyed a small example of God’s greatness, just because they could.

I am not opposed to logging trees. God gave us this world to use, for His glory, not our own. However, the questions we ask and the decisions we make reveal our arrogance toward God, our rebellion against Him, and the undercurrent motivation to ignore Him. We are not awed by Him, having so misused the word “awe” to rob it of its true meaning. We do not think about Him, seeing only something to conquer, not Someone to adore. We have not been taught the concept of submission, instead demanding our rights, and seeking our wants as rights. We measure all against our pitifully small selves, unable to comprehend the hugeness of our Creator. If we would but pay attention.

It took years for me to realize what was wrong with the question asked by the disciples. I admit my slowness in thinking through such perplexing circumstances. They asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of God. So focused upon themselves they could not see they were standing in the presence of the King. So completely humble and human was the King before them they could not see His majesty, His strength and grandeur. They were so at peace with Jesus, and while with Him the world around Him, they had not yet learned to think and feel and act like a citizen of His kingdom. They stood in the presence of a giant, the Ancient of Days, and did not know it.

Think for a moment. Imagine yourself in the presence of an earthly king, either benevolent or malevolent in nature, but in his presence as his servant or counselor or subject, either at peace with him or judged by him. Would you have the arrogance to stand in his presence and ask him who in his kingdom is the greatest hoping he would say it was you? He is the king. Is he not the greatest in his kingdom? Would he misunderstand your question and brush it off? Would he ignore the ramifications of the question? Would he continue to let someone with the audacity to ask such a question the pleasure of continuing in his presence? When someone begins to think they are as great as, or greater than, the actual king, they become disloyal, cannot be trusted, are viewed as a usurper. Who does this sound like?

Is there not the very seed of rebellion buried in the question, waiting to germinate and grow? Those at peace with God will know their place before Him. To think such a question, and then to ask it out loud to the One who is the greatest, reveals a lack of understanding and focus. True peace with God will instill within the citizen a focus upon Him which is unshakeable. Such peace is known intimately. We must be aware when anything, anything, seeks to compromise the peace given by Him, a warning that we are not seeing Him for Himself.

The Price of Peace

The Lord said to Moses, “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord’s offering. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord’s offering to make atonement for your lives. You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your lives.” [Exodus 30:11-16 ESV]

I asked when the tithe turned into a tax. Scripture never calls what is collected for the temple or the Priests a tax.

How often was a census taken in Israel? What are the words used to describe the money collected. What are the implications to the story in Matthew 17? What are the implications for the Christian throughout history?

In the Hebrew Scripture there are several words used for numbering the people. However, the word used in Exodus 30 is better translated “muster” which means head, top, beginning, chief or choicest, as well as sum or division. Three times God commands Israel to count the fighting men, not the entire population. Before they entered the Promised Land each fighting man was required to redeem themselves.

Toward the end of his life King David counted the fighting men. He was not instructed by God to do so, nor is there any indication those counted paid redemption for their lives. Counting the fighting men of Israel was an act of arrogance and the entire nation was punished for his rebellion.

In Exodus the money collected from each person counted was not called a tax but the price for atonement. During these censuses the people were not redeemed by an offer of sacrifice. They redeemed themselves, paid for their own lives. Perhaps, and I am only making an assumption, they redeemed themselves from the possible death they would face as a warrior for the Lord. The consequence of not paying the redemption was certain death. Death in war is a fact facing all. Being in God’s army and redeemed guaranteed life even during war.

Those numbered were going to war. They were entering the Promised Land and devoting the inhabitants to destruction. God promised to be with them yet, they refused to go in, except for Joshua and Caleb, because of fear. So none went. God turned them around because of their rebellion. At the end of their wanderings, before they went in to take possession of the land, another census was taken. Not one man was alive, except for Joshua and Caleb, counted in the first census. Their rebellion against God, in the face of His absolute promise, guaranteed their deaths before seeing what was promised. They paid the redemption price but still died in the wilderness because of rebellion.

Whatever money was collected was God’s just as much as they were God’s people. Each person gave same amount whether rich or poor and was a sign to them of their inclusion in God’s kingdom, His army, and His victory. It is called atonement money. Atonement brought peace between God and His people.

We are at war in this world. While here we are enlisted in His army, at war with His enemies. Rebelling against this purpose does not remove us from His kingdom for we are at peace with Him. We are not at peace with this world. When Peter compromised with those seeking the temple tax, which is not even vaguely related to the redemption money collected during the two census’ in Numbers, he sought to mitigate conflict with the world. Jesus moved his thinking, and moves mine, back to the truth of His kingdom. Money has no value in His kingdom. It is the people who are His who have value.

God redeemed us yet we are still responsible to obey. Those who are rich must rely upon the blood of Christ and offer themselves. Those who are poor must rely upon the blood of Christ and offer themselves. Only as a citizen of His kingdom will we have peace. We do not get to choose the method or means of salvation, only obey.

Think Like …

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?”

He said, “Yes.”

And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” [Matthew 17:24-27 ESV]

This story devastates me. Not because Peter obviously fails. Nor because Jesus is gracious to the failure of one of His disciples. Both points are true and hard enough to consider without demanding critical self-examination. I obviously fail and Jesus is gracious eternally with my failures. God demands self-examination but only through the perspective of His Holy Spirit living in each of those who are His.

I am devastated because Peter’s compromise plays into the thinking and expectations of the world in which Peter lived. Instead of confronting the world with its sin, with its wrong thinking, its upside-down perspective of God and His gracious requirements, Peter kowtows to the world. Instead of immediately retorting with “why should the Lord of the temple pay the temple tax?” he gives evidence of his own worldly thinking.

And mine.

Our psychology is deeply ingrained by a lifetime of worldly thinking, feeling like the world, acting like the world. Every incident and circumstance of Peter’s life found itself in his response. He grew up a Jew, constrained by sin and the ungodly expectations of Jewish traditions. He worked, paid taxes, sweated to provide for his family, paid taxes, endangered his life every time he went out in his boat, and paid taxes. No matter how much he hated taxes he knew the facts of a controlling faction who demanded the tax.

This was a Temple tax for the support of the work of the Temple. It was called a tribute. Read God’s command to Moses and Israel:

The LORD said to Moses, “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the LORD when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the LORD. Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the LORD’s offering. [Exodus 30:11-14 ESV]

If I am reading this correctly this tribute was given once by the people who came out of Egypt to begin supporting the temple, or tent of meeting at that time. After this it was the tithes and offering which would support the Priesthood and Temple. When did the freely given tithes of the Scripture morphe into a tax? How comfortably fixed he was in his thinking.

So am I.

Sometimes it’s just easier to not fight. Especially when blind-sided by those who have fallen deeply into an ever conniving world. Hadn’t Peter walked on water? Then sank because of unbelief? Hadn’t Peter confessed Jesus as Christ? Then blurted out, influenced by Satan, that He couldn’t be Christ? Hadn’t Peter just seen His Lord metemorphesized, transfigured into who He really is? And then tried to keep the Creator of the world confined to the world? Peter was a failure. So what?

Peter belonged to God and was being changed by God, prepared for eternity in the kingdom of God. God takes people, failures, and makes them successes. He takes those who are incapable of doing His will under their own strength and works through them with His eternal strength. He probes and teaches, reveals and convicts, confronts and graciously soothes, holds us in His hand and will never let any take us away from Him. Throughout Peter’s failures he showed he wanted, in the deepest part of his being, to follow His Lord.

I’m devastated because when I am challenged by the world to think like the world I do. God wants me to stop thinking like the world and start thinking like a citizen of His kingdom. I fail. So what? Every probing conviction of the Holy Spirit continues the preparation for eternity and ultimate peace with God.

Distractions to Peace

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.[ Matthew 10:34-39 ESV]

Making ourselves or anything in the world, especially our stuff, more important than God is sin. Making another person more important than God is sin. Our actions will show the evidence of sin, pointing at our rebellion against God. We are willingly compelled by a combination of worldly distraction and the thinking of our hearts toward sin. We want to control the circumstances which bring and secure peace.

Rejecting God we sacrifice true peace to gain control over a false peace. We convince ourselves that which is sin is not sin in order to maintain emotional control. We are completely out of control but as long as we feel in control we are at momentary peace with ourselves. As soon as we perceive either real or imagined danger to our emotional peace we launch into the fight or flight mode, or we freeze. As long as we concentrate upon ourselves, and the fabricated right to ownership of stuff, we are in danger of losing peace. It is not the stuff, or the collection of stuff, which challenges our peace, but the attitude which says this stuff is ours by divine right.

Jesus trained His disciples to go and teach to Israel what the people needed to know. Initially, on the first trip out, they were to take nothing with them allowing the people to meet their needs. He gave them authority and instructed them how to discern who was worthy and who was not. Did their peace stay on a place or return to them? Expect persecution, for His message was designed to stimulate conviction of sin and demand repentance. People who heard and responded either relinquished control to God or fought against Him.

We are not designed to control without being under God’s authority. Adam was given dominion over the world as part of the image of God and with his place of authority.  He sinned, rebelling against God. In Adam we sin and rebel against God. When sin entered we did not lose the image of dominion but God’s authority to control. We replaced His authority with our own, manufacturing a right to own with no consideration of God’s ultimate right to ownership.

God gave us His image so we might have a relationship with Him whose eternal being as Three in One defines all relationships. True peace is found first and only in God.

It appears the dynamic is first peace with God then peace with others based upon peace with God and, finally internal peace founded and based upon peace with God and with others. Where our peace with God is threatened because of our insistence upon control God will wrench away that control. He will not allow anything in and of this world to compromise our relationship with Him. If you own something and have turned it into an idol He will break it. If a relationship is an idol, He will demand our eyes move from the other to Him no matter the temporal, worldly consequence.

Those who belong to God will not have peace in this world. This does not mean they will have no peace. It means their peace is eternal not temporal, fixed in the thinking of God’s heart. When we struggle with a lack of peace God shows the attachment to that which is other than God so we might detach from it and rest in Him. Our peace was bought for us by His Son, Jesus Christ. We must work with God to change the thinking of our hearts.