This week's Bible Study - April 3, 2016
Our Need for Peace
Quotes of the Week:
If there is to be any peace it will come through being, not having.
We continue in the session on our needs. Recently, we have looked at contentment, direction, protection and hope. It would appear that we are very needy, wouldn't it? As we think about our need for peace, it seems that in many instances it is beyond attainable. For example, although world peace sounds good, it would require so many changes in everyone's hearts and minds, across many nations and diverse cultures that it doesn't seem possible (and scripture tells us that there won't be world peace until Jesus returns). However, this doesn't mean that we just stop trying to attain a peaceful resolution when possible. Most of us don't live in areas where we would expect suicide bombers or terrorist attacks, but we've all seen how much damage can be done when those things happen here at home. We are thankful for the many people who work daily to protect against threats such as these. Unfortunately, one would have to believe that it is likely only a matter of time before things that have recently happened in Syria, Belgium and France will happen again in America.
We struggle to see peace in our lives - and for many reasons. We like to think that peace might mean sitting on our back porch and enjoying a tranquil day - but even that can turn out to be a deceptive peace. Recently, Berkley and I were in Florida and visited some good friends who live there. They live in a nice subdivision, and behind their home is a very peaceful looking pond, with a walking path around it. It seemed so tranquil until we learned that there is an alligator that lives in the water and that those who walk their dogs around the pond have to be on the lookout for the gator. Even to just let their dog go outside on his own could prove dangerous. Although, I don't think their dog, Harley, understood the danger that was lurking in that pond. He seemed perfectly at peace, sitting and looking out over the pond. You may not have an alligator that lives just outside your backyard, but we all know that there are places that though they may look peaceful, they are really full of danger.
We realize that we may not find peace in our surroundings, but we would like to think that we could have peace in our relationships, right? Surely, we can just all get along, right? Well, on one level, we know that if we truly live as believers, we will experience conflict with the 'world', as the society becomes more and more antagonistic to our beliefs. It is difficult to live in peace knowing that some people think that believers are intolerant and stuck in the past, because we won't change what God said to match what happens in our world. In fact, both Jesus and Paul talked about submitting to governing authorities, and the authorities during their time were certainly not in line with Christian beliefs.
We would like to think that we could at least have peace with other believers, right? Your chances of finding this are better, but given that we are all humans, we know there will be times of conflict. Sometimes, we will have to do what is said in Romans 12: 18, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." The phrase, 'if it is possible', implies that it is not always possible. So, we see that our need for peace isn't necessarily fulfilled in all of our relationships either.
The next area that many believers talk about having peace is an internal peace that exists deep down. Different believers talk about this peace, but it means different things to different people. When things are going well, it may be easy to sense that inner peace that we have, but when your world turns upside down, peace can be elusive. We need to be careful to not confuse peace with personality types. For example, I most often seem very steady, which some might assume means that I am always at peace. Even when things happen, I don't often show it outwardly, but that in itself does not mean I am peaceful. On the other hand, there are others whose personality is such that their reactions are very much tied to events as they occur. Does this mean that they have no peace? I know that the way I handle lots of stress is to more or less bottle it up, so that my internal pressure gets higher and higher, so that I eventually have an explosion. In no way am I saying I enjoy that about me, but it tends to be my personality. That may have been one of the triggers for my having ALS. The diagnosis certainly may have come at some point, but I believe that the extreme amount of stress that I had been experiencing started to show itself in some sort of physical manifestation. Being calm does not mean you have peace. Nor does the lack of relational conflicts equate to peace. Ignoring destructive behaviors or situations just because one doesn't want to "rock the boat" isn't the same thing as having an inner peace - it simply means you don't have outward conflict - and honestly, that type of behavior often leads to situations that intensify while our inner peace becomes more and more elusive.
The peace that we need is not based on our environment, the status of our relationships, or the way that we internally respond to issues in life. This peace would have to be something that we can have despite whatever we come across in life. We will certainly be swayed by the circumstances we face. If you lose your home to a fire or a tornado, you will be impacted emotionally, but can you have peace? If you lose your job or face uncertain financial struggles, you will be impacted in many ways, but can you have peace? If someone in your family experiences a divorce, you will be impacted, but can you have peace? If you have a terminal diagnosis, such as my own ALS diagnosis, you will be impacted (as we are), but can you have peace? If you lose a loved one, you will be impacted, but can you have peace? Obviously, people respond to these and other events differently, but the question remains for believers - can peace be found in the midst of these events?
Jesus said to not let your hearts be troubled. Certainly, we are capable of controlling a wide range of emotions, based on the context. There are undoubtedly some reactions that we may not be able to control, or at least it would be really hard to control them. We are not called to be stoic individuals, but neither should we be governed totally by our emotions. Jesus said that if you believe in God, you should also believe in Him. I believe that we are being told that there is a tie to what we believe that can help us to determine how we respond when our hearts would be troubled.
When Jesus talked to His disciples (and told them to not be troubled, it was a contextual situation. He was not implying that they would never be troubled and that it would be wrong for them to feel anxious). He knew that their world was getting ready to fall apart. He was entering His last days on earth, and while He knew what was coming, His disciples were unwilling to consider that Jesus would soon be gone. Jesus knew that once He was gone, their world was going to collapse into chaos. They would become bewildered and worried. They would experience pain and hurt on a level that they could not at this time comprehend. I believe Jesus was letting them know that His death was not the end and that while it was horrible, to not be 'troubled', meant "This battle is not finished and that the things I've said to you were not false". It wasn't as much Jesus telling the disciples not to worry or not to have fear or concern, as it was about how things were getting ready to shake out. When our worlds are going pretty good, we begin to think that we may be immune to anything that would alter that. But, when our world is torn apart, we need to find a place to fall softly and safely.
When Jesus said believe in Him, He implies believing into Him or trusting Him. Over the past couple of months, Berkley and I have traveled a couple of different times on airplanes. Although I work at what is considered an aircraft company, I can tell you very little about what makes an airplane fly. However, over the course of my lifetime, I have stepped onto hundreds of airplanes, putting my trust in the pilot and the airframe, and believing that I would return safely. It would be one thing to say that I believed and trusted that the airplane could safely move me from point A to B and back, yet refused to get in. In that case, I believe about, but not in. One of the keys to finding any kind of peace in turmoil is to believe in Jesus. Believing about Jesus and learning more about what He did does nothing for you when your world starts falling apart. Facts and data don't bring peace, when you are beyond your ability to bear your circumstances. However, if you can put your faith in Jesus, you can at least begin to experience peace in the midst of your situation.
As Jesus spoke to the disciples, He spoke of the future. It was important that they heard His words and understood that there will be a future. When their chaos began, they had to realize that there would be a future past it. When we endure all types of trials in life, short of dying in that trial, we know that there is a future. And, when we die as a believer, we know that Jesus was guaranteeing eternity. Thinking of eternity may not change anything about your circumstance, but it does help us realize that our eternity is covered, which can be the strength that we need to make it through today.
Jesus told His disciples that there was a specific place that he was preparing. For this to happen, He had to be separated from them. Even in this life, it helps for us to know that there is a place for us. When we are going to an event that is attended by many people, to know that someone is 'saving' a place for us makes us feel wanted. I can't say that we understand everything about this place that Jesus is preparing for us. But, we know things about that place and when we are dealing with the pressures of this life, it helps to be able to think about this place.
One other thing that comes to mind about Jesus is how unique He is. He knew what was coming down the pike for Him. He knew of the suffering that He would have to face and yet He chose to think of others. I know that I myself tend to get preoccupied with things coming up. I have never really liked going to the doctor or dentist. Berkley could tell you stories about how I dread those types of things. For the bigger things, I often had a hard time sleeping even days prior, obsessing about something I didn't want to do. Nothing that we have had to experience can compare to the suffering that Jesus faced. Yet, even knowing that is was coming, He calmly spoke to His disciples about their future. He truly cared for them, as He cares for us.
Thomas, the analytic realist disciple, didn't understand what Jesus was saying. He imposed His own impression of the meaning of Jesus' words. He simply couldn't comprehend and I can't say that I blame Thomas. Any of us would also have been in the same situation, although we may not have been as bold to say something. Thomas asked that since they didn't know where Jesus was going, how could they know the way. The disciples often did this (as we would have), by asking the same questions, hoping to get a better answer, or some clarification. They couldn't handle the answer they kept getting.
On a similar note, about 12 years ago, our team at work was holding a meeting with many suppliers in Virginia. One of the younger guys on our team was going to lead an entire day of technical discussion. In his mind, ahead of time, he determined what they would want to talk about and he planned the day around it. I can't remember the question exactly, but he asked them if they would rather do A or do B. (He had prepared for a full day of A). They unanimously said B. So, he asked again, thinking that maybe he asked wrongly. Once again, they said B. Then without missing a beat, he said, I heard you say B, but I believe you were really thinking A, so we're going to talk about A. Needless to say, that didn't go so well. When we preconceive what we are going to learn from Scripture, we do ourselves a disservice. The goal is not to map Scripture to our thinking, but to allow the Scripture that we read to alter our thoughts.
Jesus responded with a very familiar saying, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Why is it that this verse bothers so many people? Simply put, it blows away the whole notion of "any way is valid". If the Bible is true, and there are many proofs of the validity of the Bible, then any other possibility of getting to God is eliminated.
Some people would say that they do not like the exclusive nature of Jesus. They bring up many hard questions about the people who live in some land where they have never heard of Jesus. Although that would lead to some interesting discussion, it doesn't deter from what the Bible says. In other areas of life, we have no problem at all with exclusivity, right? For example, if you want to call me, you would have to call my telephone number, exactly, digit by digit. You can't get close and then still reach my phone. If you want eternal life, you need to trust Jesus exactly - no more and no less.
Some might question all the different religious roads. Certainly there are all different types of religions out there. Some are similar to Christianity and others are very different. However, if you start out on a road to a destination, you can't imply that all the other roads will get you to the same place. If you get on the wrong road, the results could be disastrous. There are many religious leaders. However, unlike Jesus, all other leaders have pointed the way to the truth. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the truth. It is very easy to get sidetracked. We can find all kinds of resources about Jesus and some may confuse the difference between the resource and Jesus. Make no mistake. Jesus is the way. He is the goal and He is the guide. In His words, you will find truth and answers to your questions. In Him, you can find peace.
In verse 7, Jesus said "if you really know Me,.." He was talking to His disciples. Who on earth would know Jesus any better than them? They knew Him as being the Messiah, but they had a limited understanding of what it meant to be the Messiah. There would be a problem if they only recognized Jesus as a great leader. Many people in His day and many people today will say that Jesus had great teachings. They will say that He is from God. However, Jesus is not simply from God. He is God. There can be a danger for those who want to get close to Jesus, but refuse to accept Jesus. Peace is not found near Jesus. It is found only in Jesus.
Even for us as believers, there is a danger that we face. I believe that we face this every time we open and study God's word. When you read the Bible, do you go in with your preconception of what it will say? Have we gotten close to Christ and because of our preconceptions, limited what He will and won't do? Sometimes I envy new believers because they can be like sponges, sopping up what they read and hear, without putting limitations on what God will do. It is easy to, over time, become like the sponge that has hardened beyond the ability to learn more. When we do this, we begin to substitute religion for God. It can be easy to change life into do's and don'ts, believing that is where God works and all that God wants for us. Certainly, we should strive to do what God calls us to do, but He is more interested in the process of following and dependence upon Him. It is pertinent every day, at all times.
It is hard to describe the peace we have as believers.
It can be different for each of us, but when you are a believer, you know of the peace that you can have.
I mentioned a little earlier, "In His words, you will find truth and answers to your questions".
This is true in the more broad sense of spiritual truths.
But what we won't always find are answers to the "hard questions of life".
You know those - the 'why' questions. People have differing views on this and we aren't going to get into a debate on God's Sovereignty and what that means in the face of horrible situations, since we can't know for sure if our interpretation is even accurate or not.
But what we do know is that we live in a fallen world where sin exists, as well as death and decay and destruction, and all of those will touch our lives at some point.
In those times our sorrow and pain can be overwhelming.
I (Berkley) can tell you that there are, at times, no answer this side of heaven (and if I'm being completely honest)
I'm not fully convinced that even in Heaven they will make sense (of course I say this with the limited understanding I have and the full vex of emotions I deal with while on earth).
But even in the midst of our deepest suffering there can be a peace of knowing we are God's; and if the only thing we can cling to is to know that He will never leave us or forsake us - it can be enough.
Peace in those times doesn't mean I don't hurt, or that I'm not overwhelmed with sorrow or even anger.
It doesn't mean I am sitting quietly and calmly.
In fact, at times, it often means I'm curled into myself, certain that if I could just fold myself in half, the pain I am experiencing will be purged from my aching and tired body.
Peace doesn't mean I'm skipping around my world singing praise songs to Jesus.
Peace means that I have a confidence in who holds my world, even when I am angry at Him for allowing what I'm dealing with to happen.
I mean honestly, does anyone really believe a person who has already lost a spouse of 20 years and dealt with other
atrocities would be 'ok' to learn that their husband has a terminal illness?!? Of course not and I don't believe God
expects me to be ok with it either. I feel that my most authentic times with God are when I can cry out in pain and
anger and let all my feelings out.
The fact that I can do that shows that I have an inner peace.
I am confident that God won't leave me because I am expressing the human emotions that He created me to have.
We are including a link below to a video that was just done for our church's message on Job.
It is a brief version of our story as we talk about peace in the midst of suffering. If you have time, take a look - I think you'll get a better idea of who we are and what we mean when we say that we can have the peace that surpass all understanding.
Click Here for A Brief Version of Our Story
The most important point, though, is your relationship with Christ. Don't make the goal of your life to know more of and about Jesus. When the hard times come, knowing scripture and all the relevant 'facts' won't do one bit of good if you aren't rooted in the One who wrote those words. The relationship is the key, not the facts and knowledge. Head knowledge of Jesus or God, isn't what holds you together when your world suddenly collapses around you and you feel like you can't breathe - it's the knowing in your heart that YOUR GOD is holding you right then and that no matter, He will not let you go! Realize that the believer's life is all about knowing God personally.
We often get caught up in the wrong things in life. It is important that we focus on things that we have to do in order to keep our homes and possessions. But, we know life is not about those things. Our focus is on the people that we love and that is what makes life enjoyable. We could live and work somewhere else, but we still find enjoyment with the people we love. This is true for all people, I believe. However, our peace does not come in the people we love, but in the Christ we serve.
In the early 90's, I remember reading about a Dr Mort Doran, who was a general surgeon in British Columbia, who had Tourette's Syndrome (TS). His hands shook, but he controlled them during surgery. He had vocal tics, but he suppressed them in public. He said "My hands are perfectly still during surgery." He was able to control his shaking hands to do microscopic work. He acknowledged that it wouldn't necessarily work for all who had TS, but he was able to focus and lose himself in that role as a surgeon.
You and I probably don't have TS, but we are easily distracted by the disease of being human. The world and all its shiny things are distracting for some. For others, they are distracted by the many cares and concerns that they face. What do you think might change if we truly could go through our day to day activities, focusing on who we are in Christ? How might that help us handle whatever we face? I truly believe this is when we find a sense of peace that can go with us throughout life. Do you have peace?