Tag Archives: Calvary Memorial Church

The Christ, The Prince of Peace

Christ did not come to bring peace but to bring a sword
Christ did not come to bring peace but to bring a sword

“Glory in the highest” the angels sang, “and on earth peace, goodwill to men.”

From this first joyful proclamation of Jesus’ birth to this day, Jesus’ name has been used by advocates for peace of all kinds regardless of those advocates belief in and surrender to Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Pastor Todd preached Sunday on the hard thought that Christ did not come to bring the peace we men expected. In Matthew 10 Jesus proclaims something seemingly directly contrary to the angel’s words:

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 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. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 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. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Isn’t the Messiah supposed to bring peace? After all, the angels could not be lying, could they? I’m so confused!

Elsewhere Jesus seems to confirm the angels and contradict Himself:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

The Jews Jesus was preaching to in Matthew 10 were expecting a Messiah who would wage one final war and end all conflict with Israel as the masters of the universe. They were expecting the Prince of Peace to beat the Romans into submission and enthrone their own county in the seat of eternal power. Forget Pax Romana, they wanted Pax Iudeah.

The Jews were correct, in once sense: the peace Christ brought would be achieved through final conflict.

In John 14 Jesus is speaking specifically to His disciples, and by extension, to those who believe in Him as their Savior and Lord. He reinforces the distinction between His peace and the peace the rest of the world claims by stating He will not give His peace the same way the world gives.

There are two different kinds and times of peace that Christ is bringing to mankind. The instant and constant kind enjoyed only by those who have fought Christ and lost and surrendered and now live in subjection to His will and in His protection. And the future, hoped-for peace which will only come about when all mankind ceases it’s striving with God, the vice-grip of sin is broken from every heart, and the deceiver and tormentor and death are cast, along with all their minions and followers, into the pit of eternal destruction in God’s wrath.

The peace Christ  brought at his birth was the instant and constant peace available to those who put their faith in Him. In that same birth He began the final process up to the final day with the final trumpet shall sound, ushering in that final, lasting, and universal peace.

Wishing and hoping for universal peace on this earth is a hopeless and pointless task. Sin is the dominant force in the majority of people’s hearts, and sin is selfish. Sinners will not even agree together, and even God had not sent His Son to bring even greater conflict, the sinners themselves would find conflict enough among themselves.

Christ’s presence in this world brings even greater reason for conflict. The coming of Christ brought not the peace we men hoped for but the seed to greater conflict due to the presence of truth and those who would not and will not accept it.

Christ brought truth and truth wars against the lies which hold so many captive. Those who remain captive to the lies of the world also war with vehemence against the truth and those who have surrendered to it. The conflict is mutual and inescapable.

Peace on this earth is reserved only to those who surrender to Him and live in allegiance to His will. Peace in eternity is only given to the same.

This is not an exclusive claim because the means of salvation is freely available to all. There is no person alive not permitted to surrender to Christ, and God makes clear throughout the bible His will that no one should perish. This is the goodwill to men, that God, who worked with man despite his sin, provided the way out of the penalty for that sin.

No Tame Lion

Aslan: No Tame Lion
Aslan: No Tame Lion

This Sunday’s sermon was another eye-opener for me.

Pastor Todd has been taking us through a series on changes in life, God’s purpose for them, and the tools He’s made available to us in dealing with those changes.

The primary example for changes God walked people through has been the story of the Israelite’s release from Egyptian bondage and subsequent travels and travails to the land of God’s promise.

This Sunday we dealt with the subject of God’s provision for us, using the example of God’s providing manna in the wilderness.

In the timeline of the Promise Land journey, this event occurred just two months after God’s parting of the Red Sea, and only about 2 weeks after God had led His people to an oasis with 12 springs and 70 palm trees. In other words, God’s provision in greater and lesser (though still great) ways was fresh on the minds of His people.

Or was it.

Exodus 16 opens with the people grumbling.

And not just the regular travel pains, this is specific whining and wanting for the comforts of Egypt. God had shown them the Egyptians low regard for their lives. He’d shown them His own supremacy over and above the greatest kings of this earth. He’d shown them his tender and remarkable hand in the smallest of details by leading them to a symbolically perfect place of provision.

And they were already complaining.

Ingratitude is a morally despicable attitude and an ingrate is an ugly person. Yet here was the entire congregation of Israel grumbling at their want in this wilderness and wishing for the meat pots of Egypt.

If any of us were in God’s position, we’d consider ourselves quite justified in being incensed at the complaints of this recalcitrant and backward people. We’d rail at the ingrates and give the whole nation a dressing down they wouldn’t soon forget.

But God doesn’t.

And that’s where it is most true that this lion is no tame lion.

Huh?

How’d we get to Narnia already?

Instead of taking a human approach, and even an approach He took other times in berating the buffoons, God chose instead to prove once again His mighty hand waxing strong on behalf of his wayward and ungrateful and yet fully loved and fully cherished children.

The expect response to the complaints from below would be a diatribe about the history of the universe such as Job received, mixed with the venom of the most vicious Psalm.

The actual response:

“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you…

At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.”

The closest God came, in His words with the Israelite ingrates was that He was setting this as a test and a reminder:

“the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.”

John Calvin himself had a great issues with the narrative:

It is probable that Moses passes over much in silence, because it is not consistent that the insolence of the people was left without even a single word of chastisement. For, although God in His extraordinary kindness gave food to these depraved and wicked men, who were unworthy of the sunlight and the common air, still He was without doubt unwilling to foster their sin by His silence, and, whilst He pardoned their ingratitude, sharply reproved their forwardness. But Moses, passing over this, proceeds to a history especially worthy of narration, how God fed this wretched people with bread from heaven.

Calvin cannot believe God did not speak out in wrath against the grumblings and murmurings.

And yet, we know that God’s ways are not our ways, nor are our thoughts God’s thoughts. Not even the ways and thoughts of theologians of impeccable repute and highest authority of man come close to the ways and thoughts of God.

So we know the how and the what, but what about the why?

What divine lesson did God have through this surprising and incomprehensible story?

That He is not at our beck and call.

God does not come running when we call because of our call.

God is always there and chooses to act upon our call because He it is His nature to provide for His children.

As a mother cannot refuse the cry of her child, and yet, it is not the child’s cry that commands her but her own design that compels her nurturing response.

As the mother does it for her own peace, God does it for His own glory.

The chief end of man is to glorify God and praise Him forever.

The chief goal of God is to bring greater glory to Himself forever through everything from the vast sweep of the universe to the plaintive cry of His willing children to the grumbling whine of his most wayward lamb.

God does not act based on our need, our willingness, our spiritual health, our closeness to Him, our distance from Him, our height, our weight, our gender, our color, or anything else that binds to us as an attitude, quality, measurement, or idea.

God acts based on His own sovereign will and unchangeable character.

Which is a great relief.

Were God to be like the insurance company you failed to pay premiums to and deny you coverage in time of need because your account with Him wasn’t up to date, he’d be no God worthy of trust and respect and honor and lives sacrificed to Him.

Instead, God works in us at His good pleasure to carry out His divine will and bring about His greater glory.

Does this leave God open to abuse?

From our meager human perspective, yes it does. And the Bible tells stories rife with unfaithful people failing to give God his just desserts until that moment when He brings about the deep darkness necessary to chase those unwilling souls back into His path and He is there, willing and ready and waiting, because He wasn’t waiting for the needy to call, He was waiting for the precise moment when His greatest glory would be achieved.

Pray Steadfastly

Thankful and watchful prayer
Thankful and watchful prayer

In the sermon this morning, Pastor Todd spoke on the imperative command via Paul that we pray steadfastly.

Using the short text of Colossians 4:2: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (ESV)

Using both this text and Jesus’ commands to his closest disciples while on the Mount of Olives, Pastor Todd made several points about this steadfast prayer that spoke to me.

First, regarding the command (the phrase of the verse is in the imperative mood, grammatically speaking to pray steadfastly, he noted that the life of prayer, is not an easy life.

Indeed, it can be said the easiest part of a life characterized by steadfast prayer is quitting.

Prayer does not seem like work, oftentimes. And when our heads are bowed we’re unaware, in that moment, of the efficacy of our words to change the world and our parts in the great spiritual battle roiling around us.

However, much as prayer can seem like a distraction, or at the very least, something God wants us to do and therefore we better get it done and out of the way before getting on with the real work. We must see, with our spiritual eyes, the effect prayer has on the battle, and with our physical eyes, how that  spiritual battle affects the physical world.

If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer. ~Martin Luther

George Mueller stated the great fault of the children of God is that they do not continue in prayer, they do not persevere. It’s not about enjoyment, Mueller says:

It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the Scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer.

Pastor Todd went on to speak of two key attitudes that are necessary for prayers to be effective both to us, and in the battle for the kingdom of God: watchfulness and thankfulness.

Regarding watchfulness, he mentioned how we normally require children to close their eyes, bow their heads, and fold their hands prior to prayer, as though to shut out or minimize awareness of their surroundings. And perhaps we do this to quiet ourselves physically so that we can concentrate on the spiritual battle.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)

The purpose of this spiritual watchfulness is to protect ourselves from doubting. From the pricks and burns and wounds of the fiery darts the very real and very destructive evil one throws against us when we’re not watchful.

And not just watchfulness in the sense of being aware of the immediate battle, but we are to be aware of the larger scope of the battle.

How often, when we pray, do we ask for circumstances to improve? For John to get over his cold, for Sally to find a new job?

When what really, seriously needs our efforts in prayer in these people’s lives is their faith. We must pray John won’t succumb to the depression that being sick often brings, that he’ll stay constant in his personal spiritual walk, that he’ll not lose heart, or fall into doubt. We must pray Sally doesn’t begin to doubt God’s provision in her life when she is without normal income.

There are much more serious things at stake than a paycheck or the amount of mucus they’re producing.

Watchfulness means being aware of the real issues, the serious issues, the issues of the heart and soul, and the spiritual battle. And also being aware of the broader sweep of God’s plan, and the necessity that those without faith should be brought to it, and those in the faith may not lose it.

Then there is the attitude of thankfulness.

Colossians maintains and consistent theme of thankfulness throughout its few chapters. And for good reason. Thankfulness is important not just to make others feel good, but also for our own spiritual health.

Thankfulness helps us remain humble as we give others and God the recognition they deserve for their acts upon our life, keeping us mindful who is the author of our salvation, and the source of blessings. Humility is a constant necessity and it’s practice is critical to it’s maintenance. Gratitude ought to characterize the Christian life as it ought to characterize the Christian’s prayer.

Thankfulness also enables a proper perspective on things and resources God has blessed us with. When we recognize our resources and possessions as not our own, but entrusted to us by God for the purpose of bringing glory to Him, we are free to use those resources for His glory and the growth of others.

Pastor Todd’s final point was on the necessity of planning for prayer, and how this can help alleviate the doldrums of prayer and the ease of quitting.

Pastor Todd noted his agreement with Pastor John Piper that while spontaneity may seem to be the best source of prayer, in fact, it is the enemy of a real consistent prayer walk. The opposite of careful planning is not wonderful spontaneity, it is the rut. The unplanned spiritual life sinks to the lowest common factor.

Not that a rigorous regimen of prayers is necessary, more that a set of conditions are beneficial to maintain a healthy, spiritually rewarding, and growing habit of prayer.

Setting aside a concrete time for communing with the Lord, and finding a regular place, free from as much distraction as possible.

A notebook handy for writing down distracting thoughts enables you to push aside those thoughts, knowing they’re saved for when they’ll no longer be a distraction.

And that same notebook, or some other method of recording things you’ve prayer for, which you can then review and see exactly how God worked and answered your prayers, helps us to keep the broader perspective of God’s work through our small voices and willing hearts.

When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever. (Joshua 4:6b-7, ESV)

God knew the importance of a reminder of His work. Our memories are short and our hearts prone to wander. When we make the effort to record, first our need, and then His merciful provision, we have a record of God. We have our own, first-hand account, of God working in this world because of His glory and because we asked Him to as our Father.