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Gratefulness and Peace Always

In last week’s Thankful Thursday post we looked at how the joy of the Lord and thankfulness are related (https://wordpress.com/post/hopeandlight.blog/4208).

This week we’ll be studying a verse from Colossians that links gratitude and peace.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians‬ ‭3:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Or as the same verse says in the Amplified Bible:

“Let the peace of Christ [the inner calm of one who walks daily with Him] be the controlling factor in your hearts [deciding and settling questions thatul arise]. To this peace indeed you were called as members in one body [of believers]. And be thankful [to God always].”

‭I especially like the Amplified version of this verse, because it defines “the peace of Christ” as an inner calm that comes to those who daily walk with the Lord. This is the kind of peace God has made available for us as followers of Jesus Christ, and this walk is the key to being thankful to God at all times.

God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness, a group I work with, it currently doing a study written by Jodie Barrett and Donna Fender of Faithfully Following Ministries and entitled Verse By Verse, Growing Closer to God. One of this week’s lessons was on the importance of having an on-fire relationship with God.

A relationship with the Lord that is not vibrant and alive does not provide the peace or thankfulness we desire. Just walking through the motions of picking up our Bible once a day, reading a few verses, and then putting it down and not applying what we read to our daily lives is of little benefit. But an on-fire walk with our Savior, where we abide with Him and stay attached to the Vine for nourishment and strength to do what He asks of us is the type of relationship that brings peace and gratitude.

The peace of Christ is not only the peace we experience when there is no conflict. It includes a sense of wholeness and well-being, completeness and totality, even in the midst of overwhelming trials. Ultimately, the peace of Christ in its essence is the very presence of Christ. It’s the peace that accepts the truth no circumstance is too big that it is beyond God’s control.

And with this inner peace that is born in relationship with God and grows as we walk close to Him through whatever circumstances that touch our lives, comes an attitude of gratitude. I saw this in my own life last November, when in the midst of a situation I had dreaded for years, the loss of our medically fragile son David, God gave supernatural peace.

That peace produced a gratefulness for the Lord in my heart, even in the midst of the deep sorrow and grieving in releasing our son to God’s plan. While the peace was a gift of God’s grace as I spent time in His presence daily, the gratitude began with a choice to be thankful in the midst of the pain. But with that choice, gratitude became a natural fruit of the inner peace.

Do you want to experience both peace and an attitude of gratitude that isn’t shaken regardless of the circumstances that touch your life? If so, the key is to make sure nothing blocks your view of God. Sin does that in our lives, so if the Holy Spirit convicts you of a sin that needs to be confessed and dealt with, don’t ignore it.

As Paul David Tripp said, “Our sin is what separates us from God, but it’s our self righteousness that keeps us from running to Him for the grace He willingly gives to all who come.” Humble yourself and confess any sin God shows you, receive His forgiveness and grace. And you will be set free to walk in God’s peace and with a grateful heart.

Amazing Peace

Yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the day our precious son David graduated to his heavenly home.

The one thing that I dreaded above all others has been a lesson to me that with God peace is possible in even the most heartbreaking situations. If I had to choose one thing to characterize this difficult season of loss, it would definitely be God’s peace. Yes, I’ve grieved the loss of our son, and having him no longer in our lives has resulted in major changes for our family. But beyond all of that, this has been a season of experiencing God’s peace.

Today, Father, I want to thank You for the supernatural and unexplainable peace You have given me during this time I’ve dreaded from the time David was diagnosed with massive infantile spasms at three months of age and we entered the world of being parents of a special-needs child with a limited life expectancy.

I recall all the hospital visits when it didn’t appear David would survive to see another day. When we battled one life-threatening health issue after another, and You brought us through by Your grace. For over thirty-four years, David’s well-being was our primary focus. You provided for his needs miraculously time after time.

We saw David enter his teenage years, which the doctors most acquainted with his extensive medical needs didn’t expect. Then he was approaching age twenty-one and we faced a legal battle so big we couldn’t see a way out, but You made a way. He lived through his twenties and into his thirties, and You never once failed to meet his needs. I’m amazed as I look back on Your goodness in our lives over the past thirty-four plus years.

Yes, Father, we still miss our special son. But this has been a huge lesson in the truth that no matter what You ask us to walk through, Your grace is sufficient. Thank You, Father, that even now I can with confidence confess the promise You gave me when David was admitted to the hospital for testing because his pediatrician was concerned that something was wrong. Yes, the pediatrician was right, but Your Word has sustained me from that day until now.

“Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed…” Psalm 25:3a NASB

Peace In Tough Situations

My devotional reading this morning in Breaking Free Day By Day, by Beth Moore, began with the following question.

“Have you had a time when you were surrendered to Christ in the midst of real difficulty and you found His peace beyond understanding?”

This immediately brought to mind the day in November 2018 when I was in a small room in the emergency center of St. Luke’s Hospital in the Houston Medical Center. We had already been told that our son David was in critical condition, and while the medical staff was doing their best to stabilize him, his private duty nurse and supported home living aide and I were taken to a nearby room to wait. As I sat in that room, it became a sanctuary of God’s presence. The Lord clearly spoke to me that He was ready to take our son to heaven to be with Him. The words brought no fear, no fight, simply a deep willingness to surrender our precious son to the Lord.

For years, as we battled through one life-threatening situation after another in David’s life, I had dreaded the time when God would take him home. Even in recent years, fear of David’s death had been my biggest source of anxiety. Yet as we faced the time of surrendering our special-needs son to the Lord, there was no fear, no dread.

Concerning situations such as this one, Beth Moore said:

“When we are in crisis and finally give up trying to discover all the answers to the whys in our lives, His unexpected peace washes over us like a summer rain… Peace comes only in situations that are completely surrendered to the sovereign authority of Christ.”

Elisabeth Elliot said in the deepest valleys we walk through, we gain the deepest insights about our God. This deep valley has taught me much about God’s peace. The Greek word translated peace, as used in Philippians 4:7, refers to the sense of rest and contentment that comes from living in harmony with God, accomplished through the gospel.

As I read this brief devotional this morning, my eyes were opened to truth of why God spoke to me that day in the hospital. God was not asking my permission to take David home, I already knew that. In reality, He was inviting me to walk through this very painful situation in His peace. Through surrender to His clearly revealed will, I’ve walked through one of the most painful seasons in my life with a deep sense of peace. Yes, we miss our son. Yes, we have grieved his loss. But if I had to find one phrase to characterize these last four months it would be supernatural peace, that peace spoken of in Philippians 4:7 that makes no sense in the natural, that surpasses our human understanding and is a gift from God.

The Benefits of Choosing an Attitude of Gratitude

In recent weeks, my life has been enriched by a Bible study and video series by Tony Evans that our iConnect Bible study class at church has been going through. So when I noticed the following quote on gratefulness by Tony Evans it caught my attention.

“God says to give thanks in everything. That doesn’t mean you need to give thanks FOR everything. You don’t need to give thanks FOR that bad day. Or FOR that bad relationship. Or being passed over at work. Financial hardship. Whatever it is – you are not to give thanks FOR the difficulties, but rather IN the difficulties. That is a very important distinction, and one I think we often miss. Giving thanks IN everything shows a heart of faith that God is bigger than the difficulties and that He can use them, if you approach Him with the right heart and spirit, for your good and His glory.”

Giving thanks in difficulties is an expression of our faith in a good God. It is a practical discipline that teaches us to see our tough circumstances from God’s perspective.

The last several months of my life have been filled with circumstances I would never have chosen. Financial difficulties, needed home repairs that in the natural are an unsurmountable obstacle, a hospitalization with our special needs son David and then his sudden death two weeks ago have made this one of the most challenging seasons of my life.

And yet as I look back on what God has done in my life during this period, I’m amazed. I’ve experienced peace that surpasses all understanding in the loss of our son, a dreaded event which had previously been my biggest source of anxiety. I’ve grown in my knowledge of God more than during any other recent season of life. And as I’ve gotten to know the Lord more intimately, I’ve fallen freshly in love with Him.

Are you facing a situation that you never would have chosen? Realize there is a reason God allowed the details of what you’re going through to touch your life. Recognize He is at work through your circumstances to bring you to a new depth of relationship with Him, to a new level of spiritual maturity as suffering works to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ.

Today, decide to look for the good in your life. Spend time with the Lord, asking Him to help you see your circumstances as He sees them. Focus on the little blessings you see in the midst of the pain – and if you’re like me, I suspect you’ll find they aren’t so little.

Take time today – and every day – to choose an attitude of gratitude to God. And before long, I suspect you’ll find your entire attitude toward life will begin to change. That’s definitely what’s happened in my life – in spite of the fact that the trials our family has been walking through have no end in sight.

 

Peace Within the Body of Christ

God’s Word, the Holy Bible, is our guidebook for how to walk in peace in each area of our lives. Last week, the focus of my blog post was on peace in our relationship with God. If you missed that post, here is the link.

https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2018/06/16/peace-with-god-the-peace-of-god/

This week, I’m shifting attention to peace in our relationships with others in the body of Christ. God’s will for His people is to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians‬ ‭4:2-3‬ ‭ESV)‬‬ In practical terms, how do we do this?

For Christians, how to act in a specific situation is often black and white. Option 1 is obedience to a command of God’s Word, option 2 is disobedience and living according to our fleshly desires. But there are also many areas of our daily lives where right and wrong are not so clearly spelled out. These are areas where we need to seek understanding from the Lord concerning what He wants us to do, where with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we form our own personal convictions.

Once we have formed our own personal convictions and are seeking to live according to them, we need to understand how these relate to our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. If God has shown us something is right for us, does that mean it is right for every Christian? Not necessarily. This week’s verses for the Perfect Peace study begin with Romans 14, which deals with areas of personal conviction, things which the Bible does not say in themselves are right or wrong.

How to live by my personal convictions yet not insist that others adopt the same convictions was one of the first lessons I remember God teaching me as a new believer. Some things God clearly says are right or wrong (sin), but in many areas the choices we make are between us and the Lord. We are not to force our personal convictions on others.

As God was teaching me this lesson, I was invited out to dinner with some dear family friends who were Christians but belonged to a church that tends to be rather legalistic in areas like abstaining from certain foods and gathering for worship on a specific day of the week, both areas mentioned in this chapter. I was asking God how I should handle this invitation. He lead me to Romans 14 and told me to accept the invitation, order only the type of foods they would be comfortable with me eating, and avoid the trap of trying to change their personal convictions.

I love this chapter in The Message – it makes this lesson so clear and easy to apply. Here is the Message paraphrase of Romans 14:1 which gives a good summary of the message Paul was trying to get across, and I’m including the link to the entire chapter below for anyone interested in reading more.

“Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.”

‭https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+14&version=MSG

Where God does not say one choice is right and another is definitely wrong, He gives us some guidelines in His Word to help us make decisions. Here are a few mentioned in Romans 14.

  1. We are to welcome other genuine believers in Christ with open arms.
  2. We are to seek peace and walk in love toward all of our true brothers and sisters in Christ.
  3. The forming of personal convictions is between each individual believer and the Holy Spirit that lives in the believer’s heart. I am not to attempt to do the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of my brother or sister in Christ.
  4. Once God has shown us what is right for us in these areas, we are to be fully convinced in our mind. God will hold us accountable for our own choices and behavior.
  5. Quarreling over personal convictions does not maintain peace among believers, so this is to be avoided.
  6. Judging others in areas where right and wrong is not spelled out in the Bible is not our responsibility.
  7. We are to avoid actions that would be stumbling blocks to others who are seeking to follow Jesus Christ.

Walking in love with others in the body of Christ, especially with those who don’t see things the way we do, can be a challenge. But with the truths taught in Romans 14 we have some clear guidelines in how to promote harmony and peace with our  brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s begin using these to begin bridging some relationship gaps so we will be a clearer representation of what it truly means to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

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A New Month, A New Topical Bible Reading Plan

For a couple years, I have been using the monthly topical Bible reading plans published by Rachel Wojo, and this month’s plan Perfect Peace: Planting My Eyes on Jesus is especially appropriate to where I’ve been walking in recent months. My desire is to do at least one blog post per week during June sharing some of the things I’m learning from this study. If anyone is interested in doing this study with me, here is Rachel’s June Bible reading plan.

In the midst of a time of trying to find answers to explain recent irregularities in my blood tests, walking in God’s peace has been a challenge. It’s been a daily battle not to give in to fear. Last July and again in February of this year, my alkaline phosphatase levels have been elevated. My doctor suspected this was due to a new bone problem, so she ordered a full body bone scan with contrast. The test revealed no new bone disease that would explain the lab results.

Then, she felt the next most probable problem was disease or obstruction in the liver or pancreas. So I had a barium and IV contrast CT-scan done of my liver and pancreas done last Friday. This was especially scary, because my doctor had mentioned the possibility of cancer. But again, I was given a clear report of health from this test. This was a huge relief, but at this point we still do not know what is behind the elevated levels.

Next Friday, I’ll be taking the next step in the diagnostic process, an appointment with my gastroenterologist to discuss the results of the CT-scan in more detail and to schedule a colonoscopy. And the following Friday, I’m scheduled for a bone density test, which my doctor said is due and should be done to rule out the one other possible area of trouble with my bones.

Unlike most of the health issues I’ve faced in the past, this new one isn’t causing any outward problems. But there has been a battle – a spiritual battle in my mind against fear. So this month’s topical study on the peace we find in God’s presence is especially fitting.

Day 1: Psalm 29:1-11 (I’m using ESV throughout this study unless otherwise noted)

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” Psalms‬ ‭29:3-4

‭‭The voice of the Lord – and His very presence – is above the waters that threaten our lives. This reminds me of the first part of Isaiah 43:2.

“When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…”

Psalm 29 ends with these words. They are a great reminder that God is still on His throne, that He has been and continues to be in charge.

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” Psalm ‭29:10-11‬ ‭

Father, today I remind myself that these latest health problems I’m facing haven’t taken You by surprise. You are above these choppy waters I’m going through, still reigning on Your throne of grace and love. Thank You for a doctor who won’t let this go until she rules out all of the major issues that could be causing this irregularity in my blood work. Thank You that the two most likely and most serious problems have now been ruled out. Continue to teach me how to take hold of Your peace and rest in You as I walk through this storm in my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.