Saturday, April 14, 2012

Perfect Peace - God's Timing

 In this next installment of "Perfect Peace - Hope for the Weary Soul," we're going to look at something almost every believer in the US probably struggles with to some extent. Some to a great extent. Let's start looking at this passage in Isaiah that should get us right into it.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  --Isaiah 55:8-9 

People who worry often have one thing in common: they have lots of thoughts.

Consider your present situation, the one that concerns you the most (the thing you’re always thinking about). How many thoughts have you had about it? Dozens, hundreds?

For some time I’ve been seeking to become simpler in my outlook on life, and far more dependent on God than on myself. But a while ago I discovered a basic problem, an inner conflict between that desire and the man I had become.

I had become someone who thinks way too much.

I think too much and pray too little. Hours in thought, minutes in prayer. That was me.

The sheer volume of thoughts I’d pile up trying to figure out solutions to my problems revealed whose mind and whose thoughts I trusted in the most. Mine. But I also realized, many of my problems were too big to think my way out of. And looking back, many of the solutions I came up with just made matters worse. They left me weary and more fearful as I stood gazing into an uncertain future.

But this promise in Isaiah 55:8 brings good news. God also has thoughts, many thoughts, about the very situations that perplex us. His thoughts and His ways (what He does with His thoughts) are not just a little different than ours. God says, they are not the same at all.

We don’t think like He does or do things the way He does.

But there’s more. God’s thoughts and ways are infinitely higher than ours. The gap between our ideas and His are as high as the heavens are above the earth.

That’s no small gap.

God feels no stress as He manages the wonders of a universe. I feel stress as I ponder an unpaid bill. As I pondered this gap between God’s wisdom and mine, I realized why I found it hard to trust in God’s thoughts and ways, and often prefer my own (foolish as that may be).

God’s ways seem much slower than mine

Whatever my situation, I can usually think of a handful of things that, if done right away, would fix my problem. If I were God, I’d do those few things right now and solve this problem immediately.

But that’s not what happens.

I don’t have the power to pull off what I’m thinking and God refuses to cooperate. So my problem continues, far longer than I think it should. I do pray, at least some. But then I look for an instant breakthrough. When it doesn’t come, I’m tempted to stop praying and start thinking some more. More of my thoughts, not His.

Once as I prayed and pondered this passage, I believe the Holy Spirit began to speak to me about God’s apparent slowness. I realized that God’s ways are slower because He takes all the necessary details into account in His solutions. I may think of 3 things that need to happen. If God would just do these 3 things, my trial could be over. But God sees 30 things (or maybe 300 things) that need to happen. His thoughts are perfect and His ways are, as well.

Now might be a good time to mention the "Slow Children at Play" sign. When I used to see this sign, it seemed like it was an insult to children, rather than a warning to motorists. That's because it doesn't appear to have any pause after the word "Slow" (it intends to tell motorists to slow down, because children are at play around here). We might think the sign should read, "Slow God at Work."

But God’s plan only seems slower because God is infinitely wise…and we are not. When we look back at other situations God has rescued us from, we can plainly see this is true. We see His wisdom unveiled and vindicated. We see dozens of things God caused or allowed to happen―things we had never considered―that resulted in just the right solution to our dilemma.

We see things that, at the time, appeared to show God either not paying attention to our troubles or moving way too slow. Here's a prayer that might help get our thoughts a little more in sync with His:

Lord, today I defer to your wisdom and thank You for the evidences of grace already visible in this situation. I thank you even more for the promises in Your Word and Your abounding patience toward me. And for all the testimonies of past situations where Your faithfulness has passed every test. Help me to trust you fully in this new situation and release it completely into Your capable hands. Help me to pray more about this throughout the day, and think less. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Perfect Peace - The Holy Spirit's Role

This is the 5th post on my blog on the topic of "Perfect Peace - Hope for the Weary Soul." Another foundational discussion, building on the last one where we talked about how true peace is actually a person, or...comes to us by having a close relationship with that person, Jesus Christ. I'm referring to more than the mere fact of whether one is a Christian.

Clearly, you can be a Christian and not enjoy Perfect Peace. But this is something God intends for us to experience. To help us, He provides the most wonderful gift. The gift of Himself. The gift of the Holy Spirit.

But how many of us really know the third Person of the Trinity? God, the Holy Spirit?

Of all the Gospels, God tells us the most about what happened at the Last Supper in the Gospel of John. Four whole chapters in fact (John 13-16). Jesus said a great deal to His Disciples on that last evening and, apparently, God wanted us to hear it. One of the primary topics Jesus discussed was the Holy Spirit. But first, let’s look at something Jesus said about Himself.

“I am the Vine, you are the Branches.” (John 15:5)

This is a familiar passage and a powerful metaphor. Because it is familiar, we can sometimes forget what was happening when Jesus said it. It was the eve of His death. After three years of being with His disciples day and night, Jesus was about to leave them. And not just for a short journey. He was about to die a violent death at the hands of his enemies.

Yet Jesus shares this picture of a Vine and Branches, specifically drawing attention to the closeness of the disciples’ union with Him. Jesus was the Vine and they were the Branches, which meant they were to live in complete dependence upon Him. The disciples would have known all about vineyards, vines and branches. They would know the branches must remain connected to the vine to receive life, and to have any chance of bearing fruit. Jesus uses this metaphor to show His disciples how they should relate to Him.

They must remain this close. But how can they? He is leaving them this very night, for good.

To strengthen this idea of total dependence Jesus adds these words: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” And yet, this very night, He will be taken away from them. Still, He tells them here, in essence, don’t do anything from now on apart from me.

In light of what was about to happen that night, it might make more sense for Jesus to say, “Remember Me always.” He actually does say this earlier in the night when He led them through the first sacrament of Communion. Then He used the metaphor of His body like Bread being broken, and His blood was like the wine they would drink. And He did say, “Do this in memory of me.”

But here, a little while later that night, we have this new metaphor with the Vine and Branches. Jesus isn’t speaking of remembering Him. He’s talking about an ongoing relationship with Him that He wants them to have, well beyond the horrific events of this night. And clearly, He intends this relationship to be so real, so close and so strong that the best way to describe it is to call to mind the relationship between a Vine and its Branches.

The reason John wrote down all these extra words about the Last Supper is because he knew this is also the kind of relationship Jesus wants to have with everyone who would believe in Him. That includes you and me. Today, right now. And He wants this kind of relationship with us every day we live on this earth, until the time we see Him face to face in Heaven.

Looking back at that moment, it must have been perplexing to consider how such an intimate, ongoing relationship with Christ could be possible, since He was about to die and be taken from them that very night.

But Jesus doesn’t leave them in confusion, to ponder a nice but irrelevant metaphor that can’t possibly connect to real life. He tells them exactly how this new, intimate, dependent relationship with Him would be possible. In fact, experiencing it for themselves was part of the reason He was about to give His life for them (and for us) on the cross.

This is why He introduces them to the Holy Spirit that night, the third Person in the Trinity.

He is the One who had been with Jesus from the beginning, and whose sweet Presence and fellowship united Jesus to His Father while He was on earth. Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit six times that night (that makes introducing the Holy Spirit the primary topic of the night).

The first time, Jesus said this: “If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth…” (John 14:15-17). Here, Jesus identifies the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of truth.” Then He says He is coming as “another Helper” (Jesus being the first Helper). And then, to offset the sad news that He would be leaving them physically that night, Jesus says, “He will abide (remain) with you forever.”

In the very next verse, Jesus adds this: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

This can only mean that a primary role of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers is to serve as a living link to Jesus. Jesus comes to us through the union we have with the Holy Spirit. And not only Jesus, but the Father as well. A few verses later in verse 23, Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”

The Father and the Son make their home in our hearts through the person of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who unites the Branches to the Vine.

After the Last Supper, it is abundantly clear that the early disciples got what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit. We see them constantly talking about the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts and the epistles. And it is very evident…they related to Him in a personal and dependent way.
In contrast, I’d say many modern Christians don’t get what Jesus said, and don’t relate to the Holy Spirit the same way. In my observation, as a Christian for over 35 years (25 years as a pastor), I’d say many modern Christians relate to a “different Trinity” than what the apostles and early Christians experienced.

Instead of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, for some of us, I think our “functional Trinity” looks more like:

•    The Father, Son and The Church
•    The Father, Son and The Bible
•    The Father, Son and Theology
•    The Father, Son and The Pastor

Many of us depend on things like the church (people in the church), the Bible, theology books, or a pastor in a way God didn’t intend. Certainly, these are important things, good things, necessary things. But they are not the Vine and cannot give us life and peace. They are a means God uses to help us. But we must learn to relate and depend on the other, primary “Helper” Jesus talked about at the Last Supper.

The Holy Spirit.

We need the Holy Spirit every bit as much as Jesus said we would, every bit as much as the early disciples did. Especially if we have any hope of experiencing Perfect Peace. The Good News is…if you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit already lives within you, and is eager to help you draw closer to God.

It’s my hope that over the course of time, you will become much more familiar with this most precious gift―the Holy Spirit―and become far more comfortable relating to Him. Not just every day but, as Jesus did, throughout every moment of every day.

For it is the Holy Spirit who will help us to keep “our minds stayed on Him.” Let's close with this challenging question? Do you believe in the Trinity? If you are a Christian, likely you do. But is your "functional Trinity" the Father, Son AND the Holy Spirit?