Wow! This event and promise is revolutionary. Christ's peace is a presence, not an absence, of something...something heavenly upon the earth. It is powerful and substantial - a manifestation of His resurrection life. His peace is an ongoing ripple effect of this resurrection and a ramification of His ascension up to this present day. He left us physically, but He left us His pervading peace, by the Holy Spirit. His peace has the strength to negate anything that troubles our hearts or causes us to be afraid. Jesus distinguishes the peace He provides from the lesser kinds of "peace" that the things of this world temporarily impart. This is transcendent peace that outshines any competition. It is indomitable in nature. It can literally scare the hell out of the people and environments around us. It is in the next verse that Jesus tells his followers that He is sending them out to all the world to represent Him. What would we be like if we didn't have any fear? If nothing could trouble our heart? Though troubles and fears are in the air all around us, He says that we do not have to let them in by staying more aware of His presence with us and the satisfying peace that attends it.
Peace be with you and with us all this day, my friends. Feel it. Drink it in. Relish it. Revel in it. Embrace it. Breathe it in. It's all around us and within us already. I feel it in my bones this morning as I write these words!
Today I am pondering before God and praying about the scope, heights and depths of all the pains, traumas, sufferings and sins of human experience across the planet throughout history and up to our present day. In a way it feels like its above my pay grade to attempt to consider. What is the measure of the told and untold toll that evil has had upon human lives? The brutality of war. The horror of murder. The shame of rape and incest. The shock of genocide. The fallout from megalomaniacs in power. The violation of robbery. And this is not to mention the multiplied griefs and sorrows that flow from more subtle and/or gradual evils? The breakdown from addictions. The ripple effects of greed. The oppression of pride. The betrayal of lies and deceit. The damage of gossip and slander. The heartache of broken promises. The marks of false accusation. We could add to the list. Without doubt, as Saint Peter says in the passage above: We have inherited a "futile way of life" from our forefathers. Moreover, upon examination, we find that we ourselves have sometimes, in various ways, contributed to the pain of our fellows...and even ourselves.
The human spirit yet cries out in agony for an answer. The broken human heart laments and longs for a solution. Is God to blame? Isn't He loving, good and all-powerful? Why doesn't He do something about it all? Is He able or willing to design a sweeping one-stroke solution for the problem of evil in our world? Is there a way for Him to detox humanity from all the multiplied pain and sorrow of life on this planet? Is He able and willing to redeem us out of our misery? If He did, what would it look like? How would we lay hold of it?
Everything in the Bible points to the fact that God has indeed already done something to completely mitigate the problem of evil in our world....and its fallout. But it hasn't come in the way that we would have scripted the story. It centers upon God literally coming to be with us in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. He is Immanuel - God with us. All that He is and all that He has done is the key to the door of freedom. It was indeed a "sweeping one stroke solution" and it has come to us shrouded in mystery, wonder and beautiful irony. One main feature of this is that God does not force His wondrous solution upon us. Rather, His Holy Spirit is wooing us, beckoning us, to see past our presenting pains, sorrows and inherited futile ways long enough to look into the Face of True Love and humbly receive the priceless rescue and redemption that Christ purchased for us with His vicarious suffering and death on the cross and...His subsequent comprehensive victory over all sin, death and all the powers of darkness through His resurrection and ascension.
The Bible is full of narratives, parables, proverbs, warnings, promises, encouragements and exhortations aimed at empowering us to trust in God. A lot of intellectual assent is given to the idea of trusting God. But, developing trust is like developing a muscle in our body. It can only grow in strength and mass by being exercised, tested and put in situations that stresses it. Here is a simple list of 7 ways of life that can help us grow in a genuine trust in God at all times and with our entire being.
The Scriptures teach that Christ-followers have been transformed into a royal priesthood by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many allusions in the New Testament to this new kind of "temple service" in which we are now engaged...a "temple" that is not a physical building, but a personal and corporate "dwelling of God" within human lives and the believing community. This above passage offers us an amazing preoccupation for whatever else it is that God has called us to be about on a daily/hourly/moment-by-moment basis. Here is my interpretive paraphrase: Because of the reality of Jesus...all that He is, all that He has done and all He is doing even now...you can actually live and move and have your being, uninterrupted, in the presence of God, attune to His heart and attend to His desires. You are hereby enabled and empowered to relate with Him to all of life and declare His good nature over every person and situation you engage and encounter.
Connecting with God...Father, Son and Holy Spirit...holds forth the secret to the "original high" of human experience. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit came so mightily upon the first followers of Jesus that those who witnessed the outward effects of this fresh communal Divine habitation mistook the receivers' outward behavior as drunkenness. In Ephesians 5, right before he launches into the Jesus-style of engaging with our family and vocational commitments and communities, the apostle Paul says:
Eph 5:17: Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Once again we see people being filled with the Holy Spirit compared and contrasted with drunkenness. Why? Because when people are intoxicated they tend to give themselves over to uninhibited, communal and musical merry-making! Paul is picturing a rather stunning way that we are called to interact with our fellow Christ-followers when we get together - "addressing one another" with Spirit-charged words, expressions and songs due to the spilling over of the authentic and constant thank-filled melodies that fill our inner beings. We are attuned to a transcendent heavenly song of life because we are loved by and filled with Christ Himself. Our own hearts are at rest because, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" has become so real to us. It is in this joy-filled context that he adds the kicker - "submitting to one another" for Christ's sake.
Submit to other people...Whaaaat...are you serious? Indeed! The key to successful human relations, over the long hauls of life within our families and even in the marketplace, is to offer ourselves vulnerably to others...husbands, wives, parents, children, bosses and employees. We do what we can to appropriately address their specialized, truest and most profound needs while we simply keep trusting God to meet our own. We are so intoxicated with the Spirit, that we are inspired to actually put others first. Love is always sacrificial at its base. And...when you're even a bit intoxicated, you don't feel the pain so much anyway!
In the animated movie, The Prince of Egypt, there is a song that Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, sings over him called Through Heaven's Eyes that has always deeply moved my heart. It was a challenging time in Moses' life as he chose to renounce his princely position in Egypt and flee for his life. You can watch the clip below. I think of this song as I ponder Paul's autobiographical teaching in 2 Corinthians 12 about how he viewed his life. He learned the spiritual secret of viewing both his strengths and weaknesses through the lens of a good and great Father in heaven.
So what are "acceptable" human weaknesses that we can even "boast in" according to the New Testament? I actually think we all have our unique mix of both strengths and weaknesses. And from one season of life to another, they may even shift around a bit! In Paul's case, one weakness was an actual "messenger of satan (accuser)" that harassed him in some way or another. We do not know exactly how, but it was a direct spiritual warfare that Paul had to face and endure. He prayed to God for it to be removed, but apparently God was using this hinderance in Paul's life to keep him humble and more dependent upon His grace. Below are an expanded list of weaknesses that I believe can fall into this classification of being "acceptable". Maybe we can even come to the point in which we can "boast" in them by seeing them as landing strips for the power of the Holy Spirit?
I find myself writing about "weakness", but I'm actually unveiling a counter-intuitive pathway that will lead us to a release of the power of God's Spirit in and through our lives. In our world, people often refer to unacceptable sins as "weaknesses" and use this verbage to excuse attitudes and actions...lust, pride, self-righteousness, greed, and the like...that are beyond the pale of the kind of "weaknesses" to which I am referring. On the other hand, I find myself and others often spending way too much energy attempting to hide our "acceptable" human weaknesses due to a false humiliation and shame that bullies and drives us toward a man-made perfectionism. The terrible irony is that this is a sinful way of life! We are distracted and lured off course by this unnecessary and subtle demonic battle that skews our image of God, stunts our growth, quenches our love for Him and others, robs our hope and blocks our joy. It also relegates us to experiecing superficial relationships with our friends and even our families. Deep relationships are partially dependent upon revealing our weaknesses to others without shame or a fear of rejection. The apostle Paul went so far as to say that he "boasted in" his weakness, so that Christ's power might rest upon him. (2 Corinthians 12:9) Just what are such "acceptable" human weaknesses about which we may boast? More to say!
What a strange and paradoxical statement! The context of the perfection of God's power is smack dab in the middle of certain kinds of our human weaknesses. This is so different than we would imagine left to ourselves and our natural conceptions of what human life would look like if God really came among us in Person. We tend to be ashamed of our weaknesses and work hard to hide them so we can impress others with our strengths. The shocking news is that God did come in Person to our world in Jesus and he took on particular weaknesses of the human condition without shame - coming in total vulnerability as babe born under suspicious conditions, inhabiting a normal human body, exposing himself to temptation by Satan, needing daily bread (and using the toilet!), getting sleepy, tired, hungry and thirsty, embracing economic limitations, living in a messed up and violent culture, being rejected and misunderstood, being subject to emotional and physical wounding and even submitting to the cruelest of executions...as an unjustly convicted criminal. If I possessed the power of God, would I have chosen such a way of coming to the planet? But a part of the grand and marvelous nature of God is that He would do such a thing in order to cancel out the power of Satan and sin among and within us while simultaneously validating the value our our human lives that are yet challenged by ongoing "acceptable" weaknesses. And such weaknesses will not and do not hinder us from experiencing the power of God working within us and flowing out from us. More to be said.
Speaking about anything close to God being foolish and/or weak seems at first to be like a horrible theological error. Yet, here in the passage above, the apostle Paul has the courage to pen such stunning words. The thing is, God is so secure in His goodness and greatness, that He is not at all ashamed to allow Himself to be viewed by humanity as either foolish or weak. Moreover, He is not put off by so much of what human cultures tend to identify as foolish or weak. This aspect of God's nature is most clearly seen in the incarnation, the counter-cultural teachings, the sufferings and the crucifixion of Jesus. These things that allude to the "weakness" of Christ actually paved the way for the Heavenly Father to vindicate His Son...and display his incomparable wisdom and strength...by raising him from the dead. This way of life that Jesus modeled has wonderful and liberating implications and ramifications for us and our peculiar set of weaknesses that, rather than putting us at odds with the Father, endear us to His heart and set us up for the display of His power through our lives and ministries.
I have written in my past 5 "why" blogs about the first 3 primary values that we have chosen to focus upon in the formation stage of our development as a community of Jesus followers - ADORATION, HOPE, and KOINONIA (fellowship). I began this series by referring to the kind of learning environments that we focus upon - informal and non-formal. I also inserted a bit about embracing a non-sectarian attitude and posture in order to love, respect and embrace other Jesus-loving ministries, churches and movements. The 4th main value that we are seeking to impart into the heart of our community is DISCOVERING PURPOSE. Just as there is power in knowing the "why" of our community, it is even more vital to us that each member of our fellowship discover her/his personal "why". Whether on large or small scales, people who really know their God-given identity and purpose will be history-makers. They will bring renewal to the whole creation through emoting His presence and wisdom!
In the past, the spiritual cultures we planted, joined and helped lead tended to say to prospective members - "God has given the founders and leaders of this body a clear and compelling vision/mission that we would love for you to "catch". We desire/need you to join in with us to love, labor, fund and make sacrifices, as we have, to help this work of God become fruitful." Though this kind of message has some Biblical elements and merit, we have felt directed to aim at and convey something different to people who are and/or may want to become a part of our spiritual family.
We try to communicate something like this - "As founders and pastors of this community, we want to equip and empower you in every way we can and walk alongside of you in friendship to discover and accomplish the will of our Heavenly Father for your life in every season of your journey. This is what we earnestly desire for you and yours."
It seems good to the Holy Spirit presently that we have taken this approach and that He is promising us that whatever more corporate vision/mission He has for us will naturally-supernaturally emerge, dawn upon us all and grip our hearts. We believe that the personal ethic Jesus taught us in Matthew 16;25 applies to corporate groups and organizations as well - "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." We haven't been called as a community of faith to exist in order to preserve our existence. Rather, we are called to build and develop a rich spiritual culture in which people are empowered to hear the Lord's voice and to do what He instructs them to do. We simply trust that if we will focus on building people of Christ (i.e. making disciples), that our Lord Jesus will build His church. (Matthew 16;8)
Some might point out that this approach sows into our group the seeds of our own demise. But we would reply that a solitary seed goes into the ground in order to die, but to then mysteriously give rise to bringing forth much fruit! (John 12:24) I pray that we might always delight that the powerful rhythms of death and resurrection are at play in our community.
A VOICE OF HOPE
Michael Sullivant's Blog
I am a child of God, husband, father, grandfather, spiritual father, author, speaker and hope coach.