Category Archives: Peace with God

It Is Time for a New Creation

The Bible claims that there is a fundamental reality to people that is not immediately apparent. The truest thing about any person is not something that can be seen. There is a self behind the public self. Of course no one would deny this, but there is also a self behind the private self.

We only catch glimpses of our true self but God sees it plainly. It emerges, inevitably and unavoidably from the heart, the core of the human being. On the Day of Judgment what a person really is – the self behind the self – will finally and undeniably be revealed.

Until then, we judge people by their education, wardrobe, and even their “cool quotient.” Or we judge them by their theology, church attendance, or other criteria. We assume we know them; sometimes that we know them well. But we are unable to see what the Bible calls the “inner person” (literally, “the inside man”). Only God sees that.

St. Paul had to learn that lesson. As a Pharisee, he had judged Jesus by standards like education, accent, and “cool quotient.” He later admitted that his judgment of people, even Christ, was based on “a worldly point of view”; that is, on appearances. But Paul learned how unreliable such a gauge is.

He stopped judging people by appearances. He had made that mistake with Jesus, but he would make it no more. Something had forever changed the way he looked at people.
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How to Handle Pressure (Part 2)

St. Paul knew all about stress and he knew how to handle it.

In Corinthians 4:8, Paul describes what his stressful life could be like. He says he was “Pressed” – squeezed like grapes – on every side but not crushed.” The word crushed is interesting. It means caved in, restricted. We get our word stenosis – the narrowing, closing of an artery – from this word. Paul is the only biblical author who uses it, and the only other time he uses it is to picture one’s affection being so restricted that it no longer flows. That is the danger. When we are under pressure, the flow of affection can be shut off – to our spouses and children and friends. Paul knew that it need not be that way. “Pressed . . . but not crushed.”

Then Paul says he is perplexed. A number of other biblical writer use this word. Several times it is translated as “at a loss.” Etymologically it carries the idea of not knowing which way to go. At a loss, Paul says, but not in despair. He had been perplexed enough times to know that, though he was at a loss, he would not lose out. God would make a way; he is the way-making God. He “makes a way in the wilderness,” the prophet says, and the apostle adds that he makes a way out of every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). We sometimes find ourselves at a loss, at a seeming dead-in, like the fleeing Israelites when they came to the Red Sea. There is no way to go forward, and no way to go back. Paul had known that experience, and yet God always made a way. Perplexed, but not in despair.

Things got even worse. Continue reading

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How to Handle Pressure (part 1)

Has the pressure has been getting to you lately? Career, financial decisions, leadership responsibilities, a spiritual life to nurture – how are you supposed to stay on top of all that? You feel like the proverbial camel with the badly strained back: one more straw and you know what is going to happen. You are in over your head, and you cannot even tread water because you are holding onto too many important things. So what can you do?

I think we can learn from Saint Paul, who should be the patron saint of the distraught, the overworked and the undervalued. The man faced more pressure per square inch than any of us are likely to, and he survived – well actually he didn’t, but that is another story, and it wasn’t the pressure that killed him. We can learn a few things about handling pressure from Paul. Continue reading

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A Mind for What Matters: Philippians 4:1-9

The first instruction, given previously and now repeated, is to rejoice always.

Really, Paul? Rejoice always? You have no idea what you’re asking. Working from home amidst a thousand interruptions. The kids are out of control. Can’t find toilet paper. Didn’t get my economic impact payment from the IRS, which I need to pay the mortgage. Will probably lose my job, which means no insurance. And you want me to rejoice?

To which Paul (from a dank, dark prison cell, where he has been quarantined for a long time, separated from friends and family, and waiting to hear the outcome of his trial, which might be death by beheading) answers, Of course! “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And in case you missed it the first two times I said it, “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

Many people, hearing this, simply brush it aside as unrealistic and unfeasible. When you’re having marriage problems, when you can’t stomach your boss, when your hopes have been dashed yet again, when you’re sick, and tired, and in debt, how can Paul – how can God – expect you to rejoice? It’s impossible!

Yes, absolutely. It is impossible … for some people, but not for us – if our minds are undergoing a process of renewal. Continue reading

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The Stubbornly Silent Future: Learning to Trust

Our governor’s “Shelter in Place” order has changed the way we live. Rather than meeting people at church or in the coffee shop, I’ve been meeting people on Zoom. Pastoral visitation has not happened in people’s homes but on our phones. I and others have been calling our church family, checking on their health, and seeing if they need groceries or meds. Many of these members are older and, to a person, they are doing remarkably well. They are a resilient bunch.

It turns out that many of our older members were spending most of their time at home, even before the governor’s order. The pandemic has not affected them in the same way it affects the soccer mom, who puts 25,000 miles a year on her van, or the retired couple who eat out five nights a week.

While our church family is doing well, the question on their minds, and on their friends’ and neighbors’ minds is: How long will this last? They want to know what’s coming next and when things are going to return to normal.

All of us have a sort of inner gravity that constantly pulls us back toward normal, even when normal is not healthy. When will things be normal again? Our routines, which always have suffered interruptions, have now been turned on their heads. Everything has changed.
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Didn’t See That Coming: Living with Uncertainty

In over a hundred years of Major League Baseball, only 16 men have homered four times in one game. Most of them were power hitters. Twelve of the 16 hit 200 or more career home runs. Nine of them hit … Continue reading

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The Power of Idolatry and the Idolatry of Power

The last sentence in St. John’s first letter is: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” It’s placement as the apostle’s final word gives it substantial weight. He clearly regarded it as important.
We do not. The sentence hardly seems to fit our postmodern era. Idols were a part of their culture, not ours. Humanity has advanced beyond our ancestors’ crude worship, lavished as it was on lifeless, heartless symbols and images.
Think again. Consider the images that we have endowed with power: the apple with a bite taken out of it (Apple Corporation); the golden arches (McDonald’s); five yellow bars, radiating out like sunrays (Walmart); the smirky gold smile (Amazon). These images connote power, even world dominance.
One year out from the U.S. general election, I can think of two other symbols that connote power. The Donkey and the Elephant. Continue reading

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Can You Go a Day Without Comparing Yourself to Anyone?

Here’s a challenge. Try going a day without comparing yourself to anyone – not your height, your weight, your hair, your clothes, your car, your spouse, your golf score, or anything else. If you think it will be easy, you might be surprised. Just see how you do when you choose which checkout line to enter at the grocery store or the best lane to drive on the expressway. Those decisions are also based on comparisons.
Fastest, smartest, newest, biggest, safest, most – these are all words used in comparison. Our culture is formed on comparisons. So are our minds. We understand ourselves in relation to others; that is, through comparison. Those comparisons start in early childhood, before we are capable of articulating or even comprehending the meaning of comparison.
Are we smart? How would we know apart from comparing ourselves to others? Are we successful? How about attractive, or friendly, or wise?
While forming comparisons is a natural and necessary part of growing up, it is also a source of much of our dissatisfaction. If I lived in a Papuan village where I was the only person with a car, I would be happy with my car, even if it was rusty, the seats were lumpy, and the car could not accelerate past 35 miles per hour.
However, I might be very dissatisfied with that same car living in my Michigan town. Why? It’s not as if the car has changed. But the situation has changed. Other people’s cars are shiny, and comfortable, and fast and, compared to theirs, mine is a bucket of rust.
Comparisons can quickly lead to dissatisfaction. This is even more likely because comparisons are often rigged.
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Our Faultfinder in Heaven?

I still remember where we were when our oldest son took his first steps. He was a year old, give or take a few days. We were in a cabin in northwestern Ontario. Joel had been pulling himself up and standing for a few weeks, but while we were there, he took his first steps. He got one solid step in, followed by a two-step Lindy Hop, and then crashed to the floor.
We all cheered. You’d have thought he’d won the Nobel Prize. Instead, he took three wobbly steps. Three wobbly steps, but full of promise. We knew this was just the beginning.
One can imagine the same scenario with a different outcome. We’re in the cabin. One-year-old Joel is standing up with his hands on the sofa, and I’m urging him to come to me. I say, “Come on, son. You can do it. Come on.” He turns toward me. He lifts and extends his foot. We all hold our breath. He shifts his weight – he’s taken his first step! He then quickly takes another and another, then goes crashing down in a heap.
And that’s when I say: “That’s all you got? What’s the matter with you? I give you a year, and all you can give me is three lousy steps! You are such a disappointment to me.”
Some people think God is like the critical, impossible-to-please me in the second scenario. Continue reading

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Come Home: Does God Want You Back?

Young marrieds Jim and Jane Flynn were swimming in Lake George in New York state. When Jim got out of the water, he realized his wedding ring had slipped off and was somewhere at the bottom of the lake. Jane continued to wear her ring but Jim’s was lost.

Thirty-nine years later, a woman snorkeling in Lake George spotted something shiny on the bottom. She at first thought it must be a bottle cap, but when she retrieved it, she found it was an engraved wedding ring, with the anniversary date inscribed on the inside. After some research, she found Jim and Jane and returned the ring to them. How surprised and delighted they were to find it again! Jim now sleeps with it under his pillow.

To have the cherished thing returned after a long absence is a cause for celebration. That is just what Jesus says in Luke 15, only there we discover that we are the cherished thing! God cherishes us and wants us to be with him, no matter how long ago we hit bottom. Luke 15 shows us it is never too late to come home.
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