Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Looking for Peace in the wrong places

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

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Luke 2

 14 “Glory to God 
in the highest, 
and on earth peace 
to men on whom 
his favor rests.” 

This is the message that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds at the time of Jesus' birth. As I sat down to write today I was asking the Lord what to write about and His peace was the thought that in that moment stirred my heart.  We hear a lot about peace during the holidays and I think it is easy to get caught up in some of the holiday white wash. I think there is a mistaken notion that a life at peace in Christ is a life at ease without trouble.

Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew 10:34  34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 

I read these two verses and they seem to to bring a conflicted message. The angels say at Christs birth a message of peace on earth to those upon whom Gods favor rests. So to those that believe and follow there is peace given or promised. Then in Matthew 10 Jesus say he did not come to bring peace but a sword. What Jesus the prince of peace bring a sword?

Look at Isaiah 9: Where He is called the prince of peace. 
 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
   and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,[a] Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it  with justice and righteousness
   from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

So we hear all these verses and see them on Christmas cards and even in the letters of the apostles they often pray for the people to have peace.  I think we can find the peace of God in our hearts and minds as we live in a very troubled world. I think we often get the mistaken notion that when we become a Christian that everything will be wonderful. God has a wonderful plan for you. It is wonderful but it is rarely easy. Every day we are told to pick up our cross - (an instrument of death to our flesh) and to follow Jesus.  I think we have our focus a bit off in thinking that our Christian walk should be easy, filled with blessings. Many of Gods blessing are the hard things we must face and overcome. He helps us walk through them and that build in us His character and His likeness.

I was reading in a commentary by Matthew Henry about Matthew 10 verse. He writes: "Think not that I am come to send peace, temporal peace and outward prosperity; they thought Christ came to give all his followers wealth and power in the world; “no,” says Christ, “I did not come with a view to give them peace; peace in heaven they may be sure of, but not peace on earth.” Christ came to give us peace with God, peace in our consciences, peace with our brethren, but in the world ye shall have tribulation. Note, They mistake the design of the gospel, who think their profession of it will secure them from, for it will certainly expose them to, trouble in this world. If all the world would receive Christ, there would then follow a universal peace, but while there are and will be so many that reject him (and those not only the children of this world, but the seed of the serpent), the children of God, that are called out of the world, must expect to feel the fruits of their enmity."

This line in the above passage was helpful to me. "Christ came to give us peace with God, peace in our consciences, peace with our brethren, but in the world ye shall have tribulation."

I was reading John 14 of Jesus talking to His disciples. He says  25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

He gives us His peace and tells us not to be troubled and afraid. In Him we have peace. In the world we should not expect to find a life of ease or a life of problem free tranquility. Certainly we should try as it says in Romans 12: 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

I'm not saying to go looking for trouble. Trust me there is trouble enough out there. We live in a fallen world, it is a place of hostility towards the things of God. The enemy would love to have us lulled to sleep and for us to continue in our complacency. We are told to love our enemies, to do good to those who wrongly use an persecute us. (Matthew 5)  We need to take off our rose colored glasses of the bless me, and entertain me mind set that has crept into the church. We must realize that God is preparing a bride with out spot or wrinkle. Now is not the time to sit on your duff. Each of us has only so many years of life allotted to us. Today is the day of salvation, don't put off till tomorrow what you could do today.

At New Years you hear people wishing each other peace and prosperity in the coming year. I guess my challenge is will you follow Jesus if nothing seems to go right, if life is hard, if you don't see prosperity and so called blessings?  I don't think this is a time for fair weather friends. It is a time to decide are you committed to follow Christ no matter what?  I ask you that because the people I read about in my New Testament were willing to be beaten, and called names, to be shunned, to be cast out, to be persecuted, to be killed for their faith.  In many parts of the world to follow Christ is to face all of those things. In America we have had it very easy we can worship when, where and how we like. But I often find myself wondering if all our easy bless me Christianity were taken away would you still choose to follow Him. If your life and the life of your family was at stake because of your decision to follow Christ, would you be willing to suffer even to the point of death for his sake and to not deny him?

Stephen while He was being stoned for proclaiming Christ looks up to heaven in Acts 7
 54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

I think it is interesting to note as we enter another year, the brutal deaths of the apostles. These are the guys that walked with Jesus and knew him. Jesus was willing to give His life for us and they were willing to give their lives for him. It speaks to me in a powerful way about how much Jesus meant to them. How much does Jesus mean to you?

Matthew martyred in Ethopia, killed by a sword.
Mark died in Egypt, dragged by horses through the streets till dead.
Luke was hanged in Greece for preaching.
John was boiled oil in Rome. But he does not die and so gets sent to the island of Patmos where he wrote the Book of Revelation. He was later freed and returned to serve as a bishop in modern Turkey. He died an old man, seems he is the only Apostle to die peacefully.
Peter, is crucified upside down because he is said to have felt unworthy to die the same way as Christ.
James  brother of Jesus, was thrown down more than a hundred feet off the southeast pinnacle of the Temple because he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When it was discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a club. 

James  a son of Zebedee, was beheaded at Jerusalem. His Roman guard hearing James defend his faith chooses execution with him and knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian. 

Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael,  a missionary to Asia was whipped to death for his preaching in Armenia. 

Thomas was speared and died on a missionary trip to establish the Church in India. 

Jude,  brother of Jesus, was killed by arrows after refusing to deny his faith. 

Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot, was stoned and beheaded. 

Barnabas, was stoned to death. 

Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. 

My point today is that you may be looking for peace in your world and you are unlikely to find it if you are following Jesus.  He leads us by His peace and the peace between us and God has been restored. We can have perfect peace if our minds and thoughts and trust is in Him. (Isaiah 26:3)
None of that means that your life here is guaranteed to be easy. There are always choices to take the easy road or the harder road. Matthew 7 calls it a narrow road that few will find. 

Dear Lord, 
It is my prayer that those reading today would recommit their lives to you. That their choice to follow you would not be based upon easy blessings and an easy life in this world. I do pray that you would give them your peace but I pray they would not be confused an think that having your peace means a peaceful, trouble free life in this world.  Help us to each be willing to faithfully follow you - no matter what we may have to face in the years ahead.


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