Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Peace

My wife and I visited the Chateau Montebello today for lunch with our daughter and her family.

The Chateau is a huge log hotel on the banks of the Ottawa River, far from any major city.  There are extensive wooded grounds – good for hiking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.

It was a perfect day.  Mild temperatures and a bit of a breeze under a sunny sky.  A few yachts were moored in a yacht basin adjoining the hotel.  Spring green dressed the trees.

The quiet, the gently rolling water, the laughing grandchildren throwing stones into the river – all this was a gift of God for me.  He was giving me joy and peace.

It made me think about peace – the peace of God.

Jesus told the disciples in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” 

Peace is something I can find in Jesus.  It is something he will give me if I will take it.

What is this peace like?

I think it is more than just lack of turmoil.  It is something you can have in the midst of turmoil.

David often talks about finding refuge in God and sheltering under the shadow of his wings.  In this, I picture in my mind storms and attacks on David and he runs to God for his protection and security.  It is a bit like a ship being buffeted in the ocean and finding a narrow opening into a lagoon where all is calm.  The storm is still raging outside, but inside there is peace.

How do I gain this peace?

Part of it is giving up my right to solve all my problems on my own.  As Peter says in the well-known words of 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

To do this, though, I must really be willing to give up control of these problems.

I think it also means taking the long look at my problems.  Will they destroy the eternal relationship I have with God?  The apostle Paul tells me that nothing can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8: 38-39).

So, how important are these failures and frustrations, these irritations?  Not very.  I remain secure in the love of God.

I can find the peace of God because the Spirit of God is within me, keeping me and sustaining me.  I just need to step aside and let him do his work.

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Drinking from God’s river of delights

There is much of the mystic in me.  I long for a deep awareness of God’s presence.

Yet, I am a bit like a blind man trying to find my path.

A group of us were talking last night about what we longed for in prayer.  I said I wanted to experience something of God’s glory.

Over the years, I have felt God’s love and been filled with quiet joy from time to time.  But some of those in the Bible have known God in a much more intimate way.  Moses and David, for example.

The psalmist David sings about delighting in God a number of times.

In Psalm 36:7, he says God’s love is priceless and people find “refuge in the shadow of your wings.”  This suggests to me that we can find comfort and protection in God.

Then, David says that these people “feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.”  So, not only do we find peace and comfort, we are given a feast.

What a picture!  For me, I see a big party with people laughing and enjoying good food and drink.  There is joy in the air.   How wonderful to drink from God’s river of delights.

 How can I find this river of delights?

David seems to suggest an answer in Psalm 37.  I have turned often to his words in verses 3 and 4:

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

This tells me that something is required of me before I can know this joy.  I need to trust that God really has my good at heart.  I need to trust that what he wants is best for me.  I need to obey him –  it isn’t too hard to figure out what that involves.  And I need to “delight” myself in God.

As I give myself to God in this way, he will give me the desires of my heart – and I will know something of his glory.

This makes sense to me.

But I have much to learn.

The glory of the Lord

I have been pondering and luxuriating in the wonderful words of the prophet in Isaiah 60:1: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”

I read these words a few days ago and they stuck with me.  I have smiled every time I thought about them.  They are joyful words, exciting words – words full of hope and promise.

What I see is possibility.  These words can be true of me, of my family, of my church and of my community.  We can see the glory of God.

So, I am beginning to pray these words.  I am asking that God will reveal his glory to me and my family, to my church, and my community.

It is true that Isaiah was speaking of Zion, probably of some future time in Zion.  But, believers are the new Zion so I see it applying to us, as well.

I feel sure that God will not refuse to show us his glory.  But it does mean that some of us, at least, must seek God with as much urgency as Moses did.

God showed his glory in a very obvious way as he led the children of Israel out of Egypt.  He led them with a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.  And he gave Moses a glimpse of himself – a glimpse he gave no other man.

The result was that Moses had an intimate relationship with the Lord, such an intimate relationship that his face glowed after he had spent time with God in prayer.

How does the Lord show his glory today?

He does it in a variety of ways.  Sometimes it is through miracles of healing.  Sometimes it is simply by overwhelming us with his loving presence.  However he does it, we will know when his glory comes upon us.

I have read that people who have been overcome by the Spirit of God sometimes have to call out to God to stop because they feel that his glory will consume them.  They cannot take so much love.

An interesting point: The prophet says in Isaiah 60:1 that we are to shine as God’s glory comes.  In other words, we are to reflect Jesus to those around us as God graces us with his glorious presence.

How wonderful is this verse!

Reacting to tragedy

I was struck this weekend by how people reacted to tragedy in the movie We are Marshall.

The movie tells the true story of a small U.S. university struggling with the death of their entire football team and many supporters in a 1971 air crash.

The university leaders initially decided they would not continue with the football program for the time being at least.  The chairman of the board’s son was the star quarterback and he was one of those who died.  He was adamant that the program not be resurrected.  In his view, it would be an offense to those who died and tough on their families.

But one of the surviving football players, who had been injured and didn’t make the flight, organized a student demonstration demanding that the football program continue.  He felt that life must go on and the football team was important for morale in the school and the community.

Eventually, the school president agreed and hired a coaching staff.  One of the coaches had been an assistant on the team that was destroyed in the crash.  He had been left behind to do some scouting and was completely traumatized by the crash.  He only reluctantly agreed to return.

The head coach was a man who seemed to believe that the football team was great therapy for the grieving community.

Different approaches to the same tragedy.  Which is right?  Which is the Christian approach?

In thinking about this, I go back to Jesus’ death on the cross and I recall how Peter and the other disciples and Mary Magdalene and the other women were in the depths of despair.  They did not understand why Jesus had died any better than the Marshall community understood why their team was destroyed.

So, as Christians, we are likely to be as confused as anyone else when tragedy strikes.  And we will grieve.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: When do we move on?  Do we blame God or other people?  Do we nurse our grief – and maybe anger – indefinitely?

In Jesus’ case, he rose from the dead and there was great joy among his friends.  Tragedies in our lives seldom turn out that well.

But the Bible does point to a great truth for believers – we will find healing for our spirits in God.  In speaking of the great tribulation in Revelation 7:17, the apostle John writes that God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Death stalked the early believers, but they did not stop talking about their Lord.  They continued on.  They knew they were going to a better place and they wanted to bring as many people along with them as they could.  They preached hope.

Why meditate?

When I think of meditation, I think of my father reading a book of psalms to my sister and myself when we were small.

There was a picture of David sitting under a tree with a harp in his hand at Psalm 1 where David talks of meditating on God’s law day and night.  Even then, I was struck by the idea of meditating.  At the time, it seemed like a peaceful thing to do.

Meditation got a bad rap among many Christians when Hindu and Buddhist meditation became popular among rebellious “flower children” in the 1960s.  I didn’t share those concerns, but I was so preoccupied with work, family and church activities that meditation and contemplation were far from my thoughts.

Now that I am retired, I no longer have an excuse – I certainly have the time to meditate if I wish.  But I find it hard to shake the very North American feeling that I should be doing something “useful”.  Praying through a list of needs is useful; studying the Bible is useful; planning church activities is useful; but “meditation”?

Yet, in Psalm 1, the psalmist praises the man who meditates all day on God’s word.  I assume he was talking about himself.  Did he have a lot of extra time on his hands?  Probably not.  Whether or not the person who wrote that psalm was David, he undoubtedly had a lot to do.  Life was not as easy as it is today.

Why did he meditate?  What good was it?

Part of the answer comes in verse 3 of that psalm.  The man who meditates on God and his word is “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.”

My activity is meaningless unless my inner self is planted firmly in God.

So how should I meditate?  I looked quickly through a Bible concordance this afternoon and saw a number of ways mentioned in the psalms.  I can meditate on God’s precepts, his wonders, his works and his promises.

One of my favourite writers is Jeanne Guyon who wrote  the classic  book, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ.  In it, she recommends beginning by slowly reading a portion of scripture which is practical and simple.  Then, she suggests stopping and “tasting” and “digesting” something you have read and turning it into prayer.  She says the aim is to “sense” the very heart of what you have read.  This is not study, but a kind of reflection.

But she does not stop there.  She says there is a second kind of meditative reading where the aim is to “behold God”.  Here the idea is to read scripture until the mind is quiet and all distractions have vanished. Then, by faith, you come into God’s presence.  And you hold your mind there.

I find this attractive.  How am I ever going to flourish as a child of God unless I am in his presence?

Jeanne Guyon was an example of the power of this truth.  She wrote this book in France more than 300 years ago when she was being hounded by people who found her views threatening.  She spent many years in jail for her writings.  But she had a profound influence on people because of her deep, unshakeable faith.  Her writings are still read today, long after the death of her persecutors.

The cross

I have always preferred the resurrection of Christ to his death on the cross.

I love the hymn that begins:

Up from the grave, he arose
With a mighty triumph o’er his foes.

But I recognize that the resurrection would mean nothing if the cross had not come first.  If Christ had not died to pay for my sins, I could not enjoy life with him forever.

But what am I to make of the cross?  I feel a need to explore this further.

One of the big things about the cross is that it shows how much I am loved by God.  We are all familiar with Jesus’ words in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Another thing that stands out in my mind is how much he must have suffered when the Father turned his face away from him on the cross.  It is hard to over-estimate the tragedy this was for Jesus.  No one has ever experienced a love that compares with the love the Father has for the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Their love for each other is untarnished by sin and selfishness.

But, Jesus obediently went to the cross, knowing that he would suffer rejection at the moment that my sin was heaped on his shoulders.

Personally, I feel that this emotional and spiritual suffering was far greater than the physical pain he bore.

As a human being, I have a small understanding how hurtful rejection is.  But it is nothing compared to what Jesus faced.

Along with Christ’s love and the suffering he went through for me, I also see that the cross speaks about the importance of sacrifice in my own life.  That’s probably the reason I am not as enthusiastic about Easter Friday as I am about Easter Sunday.

Christ’s whole life was about self-giving.  It was one reason people loved him.  They knew he cared for them in a practical way.  He was an honored Rabbi but he spent much of his time healing the people he met and stepping in to help them with such mundane things as food.  He was always interested in them.

And he faced constant abuse and threats to his life.  He was at everyone’s beck and call throughout the day – he had little time to himself.

A lesser man would have said: “This isn’t worth it.”

When I look at myself, I see someone who plans his life to satisfy his own needs and desires.  I tend to resent any interruption to my plans.

But I am learning.  I see examples all around me – including, as I have said before, my own family.

And I know that God has not given up on me.  As the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

In other words, God is working on me.  His goal is to make me more like Christ.