"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Thursday, April 26, 2012

And Be Thankful

It appears almost as an afterthought. It is one of those points you wish you could ask him to clarify: Why there? Paul has just reminded the Colossians to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving just as the Lord forgave them. Over all these virtues they are to put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. They are to let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts (for they were called to peace). And there it is, a three word sentence: “And be thankful.” Col. 3:15

It is not the only time Paul linked gratitude to peace. In his letter to the Philippians, he reminded them:

“Do not be anxious (do not go on being anxious), but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6 (parentheses mine).
The Holy Spirit inspired these appearances of thankfulness (gratitude) and peace in the same context for good reasons. In the Philippians passage, Paul elaborates that when their minds dwell in the place where they are focused on things that are right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, and act accordingly, the God of peace will be with them. Of course, God’s presence in our lives is not contingent upon our behaviors, or even our attitudes. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Paul is here underlining the fact that our God is a God of peace, and when our hearts are aligned with his heart, we are unified with him in intent and purpose. What a place to be!

The reverse point is worth visiting. When we are dwelling on the negative, focusing on the things that are wrong, impure, ugly, disreputable, gossip-worthy, etc., there is no room for the peace of Christ. We are not “with” the God of peace. We are working at cross-purposes with him. In this sense, we are not “with” him. We are against him.

No wonder negativity drains us so! Our minds, hearts, souls and spirits are not working in accordance with the heart of God. You can only move a refrigerator so far from its power source before it becomes unplugged. Similarly, when we dwell in the negative and drink in the dark, we can unplug ourselves from the empowering Spirit; he will not enable us to do the things that are not in accordance with his will. And that is an exhausting place to live. The negative ripple effect can devastate our horizontal relationships as well. Whatever is not of the Spirit is of flesh. Life in the flesh is selfishness, and the fruits of selfishness are disharmony, separation and resentment.

The three word phrase, “And be thankful,” is no accident. Paul did not add it as an afterthought as if to say, “Oh yeah, remember to thank God,” before moving on to more pressing matters; not at all. He was slipping us an important key. One of the main ways we can let (God is a gentleman; we have a choice) the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, is to be thankful.

Whatever is happening in your life right now, it’s a pretty fair bet it is a mixed hand. You are probably looking at some good cards and some… you would rather trade in. It’s not that the “bad cards” are not there. It’s that we are so easily focused on them that we can forget to play our hand constructively.

Remember where you have come from, and who has brought you this far. Remember where you are going. To say that, if you are redeemed through faith in Christ, your future is bright is a laughable understatement! Someday, sooner than we think, the negatives will be wiped away. The things that are right, pure, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy will endure forever. And you will live in his loving presence forever. Dwell on these things. And be thankful.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sovereign Peace

The process of selecting a leader for our country surrounds us. Over the next several months candidates will bombard us with messages about their character and competence, and the lack of same in their opponents. Their goal is to become the supreme leader of our country, to exercise control and influence, presumably for the good of the people.

In our hearts, a similar campaign emerges. Priorities and goals jockey for position. Some are obvious: jobs, marriages, families, houses and cars. Others go unnoticed unless one has been trained, as Paul is training his readers in the third chapter of the book of Colossians. He has laid a foundation, reminding us that we who follow Christ are to take off the old self and its practices, and are to set our minds on spiritual things, not the things of this world. We are to get rid of the things of the old self, many of them attitudes and resulting emotional states: anger, malice, slander, sexual immorality, impurity, lust evil desires and greed. In saying that we should get rid of “all things as these” that Paul is giving these as examples, and not an exhaustive list. The point is there are many attitudes that compete for the leadership of our hearts. Most of them are expressions of the old selfish self.

Having given so many examples of these competing priorities and motivations, Paul now crowns his persuasion with these words:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” Colossians 3:15

There is a throne in your heart and someone reigns there. The natural by default ruler is the old self with its selfish motivations (greed, lust, malice, impurity, etc.) Paul assures us there is a better way and a better Ruler. If we let Christ rule there, peace results and we are able to wear the qualities of Christ on our sleeves, so to speak. Paul has given us examples of these qualities in verses 12-14: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, perseverance, forgiveness, all bound together with agape love.

At any given moment we are letting one or the other of these ways of being rule in our hearts. As I meditated on this verse over the course of weeks and months, I asked myself: What if I REALLY believed this? What if, rather than passing over the verse and calling it a beautiful thought, I actually let the peace of Christ rule in my heart? As trying circumstances presented themselves, I had opportunity to allow the old self (malice, anger) to rule in my heart. The other option became increasingly clear as the Holy Spirit asked me:

“What if the peace of Christ ruled in THIS situation? What would be different in your thoughts, motivations and actions? How would these change the way you feel and act right now?”

This single verse has been life changing. It has freed me from the bondage of an old way of life that I had allowed to share sovereignty (rule) in my heart. By first imagining what the rule of the peace of Christ would look like in my life on any given day, longing for it, seeking and cooperating with it, I have been able to experience and share the peace of Christ more consistently than ever before.

There is a throne in your heart. There is room for only one there. Today, who will it be?