Counterfeit Peace

Absent from the transcendent peace of God, our heart relentlessly manufactures a counterfeit through its pursuits of comfort and control. If we could just maintain stasis, command the events ahead, and assign meaning to those which have passed behind us—we convince ourselves—our hearts would find peace.

Economics help with such pursuits. Increased prosperity gives access to higher creature comforts, greater predictability, and less daily friction in general. And yet, the brummagem never holds up under the pressures of life.

Every generation of Americans since the 1930’s have reported increasing amounts of anxiety and depression. Because these daily struggles have increased during the same period economic prosperity has grown, some anthropologists have begun to view them as symptoms of something deeper.

“The Lord is at hand,” Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” It is important to make a distinction—the apostle isn’t talking about mental health conditions (although he may wrestle with something similar in another letter), rather he is addressing the daily anxieties common to all people.

Counterfeit peace is built on circumstance and dominance. Authentic peace rests in the giver of peace. This may be why we’re uninterested in it—the goal isn’t to return comfort and control to us as individuals, but to reorient our heart so that we pursue the giver rather than the gifts.

Ultimately finding our heart’s resting place in Christ results in greater peace not only for times of struggle, but for times of joy as well. In his sermon Peace—Overcoming Anxiety pastor Timothy Keller explains what happens when genuine peace defines our lives:

You can enjoy good food. You can enjoy a comfort. You can enjoy physical pleasures, but you know what they’re there for. They’re simply little samples. Like those sort of cruddy little things they stick out in the delicatessens and say, “Here, come and taste something.”

You taste them. They’re okay, but they’re stale. They’re not the very best thing you’re going to get, not the best dessert that comes out from the great restaurant. Even the best physical pleasures are just those kinds of dim hints. That’s the reason why our friend C.S. Lewis says a real Christian allows his mind to run up the sunbeam to the sun. He doesn’t sit and look at the sunbeam. He knows where it’s from.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 18 (Listen – 2:23)
Colossians 1 (Listen – 4:18)

Cherished Prayers

Colossians 4.3
Pray for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.

Though primarily associated with flash-points in history, religious intolerance and persecution still run rampant in our world today. Pew Research Center’s most recent study, released last year, opened by stating, “Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas.”

You now live in a position of privilege if you can read scripture without threat to freedom, worship without worry of attack, or be identified as a Christian without threat to life and family.

This privilege shouldn’t bring guilt, nor should it breed fondness of its luxury. The words of martyrs quickly rebuke such self-absorption and idleness. Polycarp, in final prayer before his martyrdom c.156 C.E., said this:

I bless you because you have thought me worthy of this day and hour, worthy to be numbered among the martyrs and to drink out of the cup your Anointed has drunk from, so to rise and live forever, body and soul, in the incorruptibility that is the Holy Spirit’s.

May I be admitted with them in your presence today, a satisfying welcome sacrifice. You have made my life a preparation for this; you showed me that this was to be and now you have brought it about, like the veracious and truthful God that you are. For this and all your blessings I praise you and give you glory, through the eternal high priest, Jesus Christ the heavenly, your dear Child.

He is with you and the Holy Spirit. Through him may glory be given you now and in the ages to come. Amen.
Paul asks for prayer at the end of Colossians because the persecuted cherish the prayers of the church. We can raise awareness of global persecution, and prompt our government to action — but we should not forget the power of our prayers.
Prayer is the most necessary action, the greatest gift, the hardest spiritual labor, as well the simplest cry of a loving heart. The time that you spend in prayer has an eternal impact on the lives of men and women throughout our world. Through prayer our world is changed, closed doors are opened, resistant people are made receptive, leaders are put down and raised up, and the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is extended. — Voice of the Martyr’s prayer guide for persecuted Christians
Today’s Reading
1 Kings 17 (Listen – 3:14)
Colossians 4 (Listen – 2:21)

Pride, the Enemy of Pleasure

Colossians 3.2
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

The pilgrim is not to despise the comforts which he may meet with by the way, but he is not to tarry among them, or leave them with regret. — John Eadie

Only when a person is not dependent on an object or experience for pleasure are they truly free to enjoy it. We know this, of course, because things we’ve built anticipation for regularly find a way of letting us down. On the other hand, things for which we have little- or low-expectations find ways of impressing us greatly.

In response, some people cultivate perpetually low expectations toward everything and everyone. It’s a compensatory mechanism in which they seek to avoid life’s disappointments and, if all goes well, find themselves “pleasantly surprised.” This soothes the symptoms, but leaves the cause to fester.

The problem is not in the objects and experiences themselves, but our dependence on them to cultivate joy and happiness. It is another manifestation of the root of pride — our desire to derive primary satisfaction, pleasure, and identity from our personal experiences and achievements.

“True humility,” says Timothy Keller, in summary of C.S. Lewis, “is not thinking less of yourself or thinking more of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” When our lives take on a posture of humility it affects not just our relationships with others, but our relationships with the objects and pleasures of this world.

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

C.S. Lewis

The Christian posture toward the objects and pleasures of the world is neither asceticism nor hedonism. Instead, our attention, passions, and desires have been so captured by the gospel that we are free to enjoy the many pleasures of this world without falling in love with them. Boasting in the cross makes us humble toward the world.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 16 (Listen – 5:31)
Colossians 3 (Listen – 3:09)

 

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Update: A previous version of this post attributed Timothy Keller’s summary of C.S. Lewis’ words on humility to Lewis himself. 

Choosing Christ

Colossians 2.6-7
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. — C.S. Lewis

The words, Christ, Jesus, and Lord, in Colossians 2, were written with the intention of provocation.

To the ancient Jewish elite, accepting Christ in the person of Jesus demanded a radical reorientation of how they understood faith.

To the Docetists, believing in Jesus as a man required an intellectual transformation. (They denied God would humble himself to the nature of a man, a view deemed heretical at Constantinople in 325 C.E.)

To the the secularists, submitting to Jesus as Lord — the one who holds authority over heaven and earth — would confront their illusion of control over their own lives.

Although the names of the groups have changed in today’s world, many of the confrontations of choosing Christ remain the same.

Though it is fairly palatable to accept Jesus as a man, or even an inspiring moral teacher, choosing him as Christ and Lord comes at a cost — socially, professionally, and otherwise. The path of least resistance is to settle for inspiration while maintaining functional control over our own heart, mind, and strength.

This dilemma famously provoked C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

This confrontation is not without an invitation, however. In accepting Jesus as Christ, our Lord, we find the richness and full depth of the human experience — a reality the rest of Colossians 2 explores in depth.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 15 (Listen – 5:30)
Colossians 2 (Listen – 3:27)

Getting to the Heart :: The Weekend Reading List

Our hearts, like fine instruments, need to be tuned. Proverbs warns, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” This may have been what Jesus was thinking of when he said, “…for out of the overflow of the heart, (the) mouth speaks.” Our heart sets the course for our life. If our heart is envious, entitled, impatient or pleasure-seeking, everything in our life will be marked by these traits.

Legalists suffer from myopic focus on behavior. If a person is angry, legalists demand the person control the outputs of anger. Don’t lash out. Pause before you react. In contrast, the target of the gospel is the heart — it address a person’s actions by moving directly to the root.

For example, is a person angry:  (1) because he feels superior and sees others as a nuisance, (2) because he lusts for success and lashes out when things get shaky, or (3) because something happened in the past and he now responds disproportionally under the same circumstances.

In the first case, the root of the anger is entitlement — and the root is likely fleshing itself out as he belittles people who work in service positions or spends large amounts of money on things that refine his image. Multiple sins often draw life from the same root.

In the second case, the root is the idol of success. The person might use peers to scrape his way to the top — taking credit for other people’s work and shifting blame for failures. He could also be ignoring relationships that don’t seem to benefit his bottom line.

In the later case, the root of his anger is likely either guilt or bitterness. If the person is full of guilt, he may not have forgiven himself or walked through the necessary steps to seek forgiveness from those he has hurt. If he is bitter it’s possible he is delaying the journey to forgive someone who has hurt him.

When we get to the root issues of the heart we begin discussing motivations rather than just actions. Focusing solely on actions is like a doctor handing throat lozenges to a coughing patient who is really suffering from pneumonia.

In some ways it’s more comfortable to deal exclusively with actions rather than addressing heart issues. After all, if it’s simply an action that’s our core problem, we can often provide the solution on our own — willing ourselves into change.

Seeing God’s grace as the primary means of change doesn’t mean we stop working on our will. True change happens when a person responds with all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their mind and all of their strength. In his book, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on DiscipleshipDallas Willard clarifies, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning.”

In this, we seek to live dedicated lives of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit. After all, what person can change their own heart? Tell two people in love to stop their hearts from loving. Tell an envious person to have a content soul. It can’t happen. When the gospel drives at our heart it takes us beyond our own sufficiency to our need for a Savior — someone who can change our heart.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 12 (Listen – 7:05)
Philippians 3 (Listen – 3:45)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 13 (Listen – 7:05) Philippians 4 (Listen – 3:45)
1 Kings 14 (Listen – 7:05) Colossians 1 (Listen – 3:45)

 

The Weekend Reading List

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