Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I lay awake as an early morning thunderstorm crashed over us thinking and praying about the presence of God in all circumstances and choices without being anxious. I found myself stumbling over my own words of prayer. It was sort of the “digital” version of prayer where I had to keep backspacing and editing because it’s such a mysterious thing that the Sovereign God is always present in the thoughts, actions, emotions and choices of the believer.
I swear I believe that but then I find myself asking for “something more.” Some “sign” that will be confirmation my heart, mind, emotions and choices are right because there aren’t enough details to guarantee that. That insecurity belies what I swear. I don’t really have a good track record with New Year’s Resolutions so here’s my alternative: Three New Year’s Questions to read and ponder throughout 2019.
• What if the presence of the Holy Spirit really does dwell within us as part of every thought, action, emotion and choice?
• What if it were possible to quit struggling to figure out all the details and be assured the relationship the Spirit has created between God and us through Jesus is enough for “every situation”?
• What if questions are a purposeful part of how God works to take captive our thoughts, actions, emotions and choices guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to give us access to “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…”?
“God is always speaking to us, but it requires spiritual discernment to hear God’s voice, see what God sees, and read the signs in daily life.” Henri Nouwen from Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life
I’m diverting from II Corinthians because at the moment you’re reading this I’m on the high seas for a 3-day cruise but thanks to WordPress I can schedule this story and at the appointed time [I hope] it will be told.
Thank you Lord for the image of “your” new life, your Son, lying in a Cradle of circumstances. This time of preparation shows us how important this annual pilgrimage is to our celebration of that birth and that Cradle. It was your own preparation for us that made Advent a celebration at all and Jesus your special gift of access for us.
We all enter the Kingdom of God through that same Cradle: another “new” life born in the midst of a broken world. The Cradle still contains the memory of God’s preparation. It still holds the promise of what new life can become through the stories of wise men, shepherds and angels, even in a still-broken world. That Cradle is the shelter of God’s provision for us when there doesn’t seem to be room for us anywhere else. This annual journey shows us one more time where we’ve come from, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. There will be emotional and physical joy and hardship involved in that journey but…
• We have wise men today that have found their special path to that Cradle to offer their treasure and then share their story with us so we can follow and find our way too.
• We have shepherds today who despite their own fears rise and boldly share your Story.
• We have angels in our lives who sing your praises and share your promises of renewal, restoration and grace that prepare us to recognize and receive your gift of forever…again this year.
It’s glorious to remember isn’t it?
-Mark 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
-Matthew 22:37 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
-Luke 10:27…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.
These three New Testament Scripture passages all quote Jesus speaking words that would have been familiar to his Jewish hearers, the Shema. They’re words still used repeatedly in Jewish prayers. They all include loving God with your heart and soul which seems obvious. The inclusion of mind and/or strength is the variant that got my attention. I understand the access to mind and strength more than I do heart and soul.
This is the age-old debate: Is it strength of commitment or the exercise of the mind that fills the heart and soul? How do we figure out what’s required of us to prove our sincerity? It would seem even these Bible authors had their own opinion on that. Mind and strength? Mind? Strength? Do I have to choose one or the other?
Hillel was a famous religious leader in Jewish history. He was asked to recite the whole law for a dedicated student who would prove his sincerity and his physical strength by listening to it all while standing on one leg. That’s a funny mind picture isn’t it? Hillel’s short answer was probably pretty welcome to him; “What thou hatest for thyself, do not to thy neighbour. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn.”
This is the whole law…“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…” Now go find a comfortable spot, read, study and think. God will begin to write his whole commentary in your mind and on your heart to strengthen your soul
NIV [New International Version] 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
TLB [The Living Bible] 5:1 So now, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be.
As much as I love the book of Romans and the NIV version it’s easy to read familiar words and phrases like “justified, peace with God through Jesus, grace in which we now stand, and boast in the hope of the glory of God” and let them slip by because I know I believe them. The challenge is not to let that happen. I want the truth of Scripture to be more important to my everyday life than that. That’s when I’m thankful for being able to read another version like The Living Bible, and be reminded how much those familiar phrases matter.
I am “justified” because God sees my faith in his promises through Jesus’ eyes. The reality of peace with God is Jesus Christ has done that for me. My faith is the gift of access to the grace that gives me confidence I can look forward to actually becoming all that God has in mind for me to be.
The Living Bible is a paraphrase created by Kenneth N. Taylor, the founder of Tyndale House and first published in 1971. Dr. Taylor used a previously translated version, the American Standard Version of 1901, to create The Living Bible. Taylor intended his paraphrase to put the basic message of the Bible into easier-to-read language, not to replace accepted translations.
The New International Version is a completely original translation of the Bible developed by more than one hundred scholars. The Committee of Bible Translation was charged to meet every year to review, maintain, and strengthen the NIV’s ability to accurately and faithfully render God’s unchanging Word as new discoveries are made about the biblical world and its languages.
Don’t neglect the privilege you have to read other versions of Scripture, especially when they seem familiar to you. God will make his truth worth your effort.
25 I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.
26 I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
teach me your decrees.
27 Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
28 My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
29 Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me and teach me your law.
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.
31 I hold fast to your statutes, Lord;
do not let me be put to shame.
32 I run in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding.
These eight verses were used by God in the life of the Psalmist. They were highlighted with the subtle heading of an access door to God, a “Daleth,” and kept for us; the future generations when subtlety would be replaced with reality. God would reveal the “Daleth.”
The “door” is exactly how Jesus describes himself in the NASB version of John 10:7 “So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”
These verses of the Psalm are meant for us today. Try this; read all eight of the verses as if you are the “I” and insert the name of our door, Jesus, where it seems to fit in each of them. You may discover these words have become your own access door; praise from one more flawed and fearful, but faithful, servant committed to finding faith in daily life. May it be so.