This week's Bible Study - December 28, 2014
The Shelter of God's Peace
Quotes of the Week:
Peace is such a precious jewel, that I would give anything for it but truth.
Let there be peace on earth. If you haven't sung it this year, you've likely heard those words in the past few weeks preceding Christmas. We'd love to think that peace is around the corner, but it seems our world is so far from peace that it will never truly happen. We have always known that there will be wars and rumors of wars in different parts of the world. In watching the nightly news, we have seen unrest in many parts of the world. We know that some of these areas of unrest go back hundreds of years. Some might think as the world gets 'closer' as information can be shared very quickly, people would become more educated and able to end some of these wars. However, it seems that this information is often used to further violence, as opposed to curbing it and bringing peace.
With many of the events that unfolded in 2014, we seem to be further and further away from any sign of peace. On top of the numerous murders that happen around the country, other events have been so over publicized, leading to protests that have incited riots and further killings that were certainly unwarranted. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, "What really happened?" Obviously, many people haven't. This isn't so much about the circumstances in one event or another, but what has happened to our society that seems to want to cause civil unrest, leading to rioting, looting, burning and ultimately senseless killing. What has our society turned to when mass vigilante justice becomes the norm? What has happened when people refuse to look at other perspectives, or perhaps truly seek truth in a situation? You have to ask yourself where all of this is headed if something doesn't change and soon.
We'd like to say that the lack of peace is all about wars in different parts of the world, or related to the current events that we see plastered on the news. We'd like to think that the only lack of peace we will have is when we walk out the door, and we wouldn't find it in our homes. Oh, how we'd like to think that. Often, we turn off the news, shut the computer down and when we are alone, there is still the absence of peace. We know that there won't be peace among all peoples in the world in our lifetime. We know that there will not be a solution to the current woes of our world that we could wrap a bow on and say that it is peaceful. But, wouldn't we like to think that somewhere deep down inside of us that we can have peace? As believers, we know that peace internally is not only possible, but it is what God desires to give us. When peace is elusive, where has it gone, or what is our problem?
There are many things that can cause us to lose peace in our lives. When we allow sin to be accepted as 'okay' and make it a regular part of our life, that sin can disrupt internal peace. When we have relationship problems, peace will be disrupted. I look at the many people who have distanced themselves from family. In many cases, people have distanced themselves from others in an attempt to punish the other person. In doing so, what they really have done is to wreak havoc in their own lives. In previous lessons, we discussed the importance of taking a look at our relationships and identifying if there was something else that WE need to do. It's good to have a quiet place, but peace is not just about being in that place, but it is also about what is going on inside of you when you are there (or elsewhere). As you read this lesson, ask yourself why you may be having problems with peace in your life, and see if God might be giving you some reasons why you are not experiencing His peace.
The focus of this passage is upon God. We read that He is our refuge and strength. Isn't it amazing that we tend to go elsewhere when our world unravels, as if we are going to find strength from some other place than God? When we are in the midst of trials, we should start by focusing upon God. When we focus elsewhere for peace, we may find temporary cessation from problems, but only in God can we find refuge. He doesn't give us refuge or provide us a place for refuge, but God Himself IS our refuge. We read that He is an ever-present help in trouble. Note that this does not say that God intends to take you away from your troubles, but to provide help in that time. There used to be a commercial on TV that said "Calgon, take me away!" Getting away from your troubles for a short time may be possible, but we need to be careful to not assume that God will take us away!
There are some people who seem to exude strength in and of themselves. In fact, there are very powerful people, but there can come situations in which even the strongest person is weak. And, in a time of weakness, we tend to fear. Verse 2 says that due to God's presence, we will not fear. The command to not fear or to not be afraid occurs often in Scripture. Some have said 365 times (one per day per year), but whether that is true or not, there are well over 100 passages that you can easily find in Scripture regarding the command to not fear. We all experience times when we are afraid and many of those are natural and to be expected. At nighttime, we are often prone to be more afraid than in the day, largely because we are less aware of our surroundings. You may have a fear of heights or of roller coasters. This is not saying that God will remove all fear, but when we encounter issues and troubles in life, we can be assured that God goes with us.
The Psalmist says that we will not fear though the earth give way, the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, and the waters roar and foam. This seems to speak of the undoing of Creation itself. We see natural disasters that bring terror to many people. Certainly if you are in the midst of a tsunami and you see a wall of a wave coming towards you, even the most faithful believer will experience fear. If you are in the path of a tornado, you will fear. These things happen and, when they do, many question the presence of God. We tend to question God's presence more when it happens to us personally or to someone we know. These events happen nearly each and every day to some person in some part of the world, but that does not point to a God who has forgotten us.
While we may be personally impacted by an act of nature, we can know that God's presence will be with us. We need to realize that God's goal for us is not our quality of life but that we would learn to rely upon Him. It can be very easy to misunderstand that point and believe that God's help would mean that we would be untouched by tragedy or that tragedy would be minimized. The true answer is that God will be with us in the midst of our tragedy.
As opposed to the many fearsome weather phenomena mentioned in the previous verses, we read in these verses about a totally different place. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. You may know of streams originating from mountains and flowing peacefully past small towns. Certainly, these streams are normally away from hustle and bustle of traffic or city activity, and at least seem to be peaceful.
There are many different places that Berkley and I have been able to go over the past few years and some of them have been very peaceful. There have been beaches without a lot of other people, and even with the waves crashing on the sand, there has been an incredible sense of peace and of the awesome power of God. When we went to Vermont and New Hampshire, we drove into the countryside, away from the highways and larger roads (okay, maybe we were a 'little' lost), and we came across a few places that were amazingly simple, beautiful and peaceful. There was one church that, in its simplicity, typified majesty and the peace of God. We have seen beautiful lakes in the mountains at Whistler, Canada. We have seen the majesty of the Rocky Mountains and the beauty of rolling hills in California. There are many places in all areas of the world where you can find beauty and peace, each different from the other. When you are in these peaceful places, you tend to forget about the other events in our world that are currently underway.
Even though this shows a serene city of God, we read that there is turmoil on the outside of the city. The city is surrounded and the enemies plan to siege the city. However, inside the city of God, there is serenity. Berkley and I were watching a special on PBS on the song "Silent Night" and we heard about the Fortress Hohensalzburg, one of the largest medieval castles in Europe, above the city of Salzburg, Austria. For centuries, it appeared to be impenetrable. But, in 1800, Napoleon was able to conquer it. The city of God is not like a great Fortress that can be penetrated, despite all attacks that come against it.
We tend to think of the enemies of God as being humans that are standing in opposition to Him. While this may appear to be true, the true enemy is Satan. One stanza of A Mighty Fortress, penned by Martin Luther states "The Prince of Darkness Grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure because his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him." The final stanza says: "That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abides."
This peace is less about any place and its peaceful surroundings, but more about the presence of God. Even when all else may seem to be falling apart, God is a help and refuge. Nothing can stand against God. One word from God and all enemies fall apart.
This passage serves as a song of sorts, with both verses 7 and 11 being the same and somewhat of a chorus. It is a statement that attests that the Lord Almighty is with us. There will come times in the midst of troubles that you can be helped to simply acknowledge that the Lord is with you. You may not feel that He is, largely because we tend to expect things to be the way that we would like them to be, as a sign. We need to be reminded over and over that it is not about me.
The Psalmist says that the God of Jacob is our fortress. In recalling the God of Jacob, he is acknowledging the permanence of God. He acknowledges the covenant that God had made with Abraham in the past, and how that covenant has been being fulfilled through Jacob and others along the way. God has worked in the past, in lives that have come and gone - He is the same God working in our lives and serving as our fortress. If we take the time to look back in our lives, we find that God has worked in many ways that we know of. Haven't you wondered how God has worked in the lives of your ancestors, perhaps many generations preceding our own? Will others who come after us know how God has provided for us? There is much that we can do to offer encouragement to generations to follow.
In the second 'verse' of this stanza, verses 8-9 says that we should come and see what the Lord has done. This is speaking of a time in the future, showing that God's complete victory over forces that have amassed against Him. It is a time when the challenges that you and I face will be over, and God's victory will be sure.
In that time in the future, God will have made wars cease to the ends of the earth. We read that He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, and He burns the shields with fire. We look at the weapons of warfare today that seem to be unstoppable, but God can thwart any weapon that man can make. In our lifetimes, we have seen so many technological advances and there is much that can be done to 'secure' them from enemy forces. We tend to forget the almighty power of God, against whom no weapon can find success.
In verse 10, the Lord says "Be still and know that I am God". We think of this verse as being a time where we need to be still to see where God is at work. While this is true, we need to realize that this verse is speaking "Silence" to the enemies of God. This is God's announcement of His rule over all people.
The victory in the battle is not based on the city of God. The victory is not based on the people of God. This is God's word and His work in the midst of His people. It is not about you or I being better or stronger or more confident in ourselves, but it is about realizing that all power comes from God.
When we realize that God is on our side, we know that time lies in His hands. Things may not always work out as we would hope, but we can know that God is in control. We may never know why certain things happen, but we know that in all things, God is glorified. When we are able to put our objections to the side, and put our lives in His hands, we can truly be still and know that He is God.
Ultimately, God will be exalted among the nations and will be exalted in the earth. We may not see it now, but we can be sure that it will come to pass. We should not allow ourselves to be taken by the ways of this world or to follow after the gods that others follow. Follow after those gods and find turmoil and anything but peace internally. Know that the Lord, He is God. Follow Him and find peace!
We know that God is our refuge and strength. You and I are the hands and feet of God. Have you ever considered what your role may be in helping to provide peace to others? Often, when we read these lessons, there are two major points. One is for us to do some self introspection and see how it relates to us personally. For example, are you finding yourself to not be at peace, and what are the reasons? Is there something that you should do to help you find that peace? We know that we cannot find peace in any other place, but God has often placed people around us that can help. I have been amazed at how often peace could be found, at least in some manner, with the help of a counselor. Are you willing to seek help if you need peace? Ultimately, God provides the peace, but others can help you find God's peace, especially when situations in life go far different than you may have hoped.
Another major point is how we can help others. Perhaps, right now, you are at peace. That is a true blessing. Who do you see around you that is struggling right now? Have you ever considered how much of a blessing it might be to send a note to someone, or show that you are supporting someone who is hurting? In that case, you may very well be the bearer of God's peace for someone else. Is there someone that you need to encourage today?