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One thing I like to do for personal edification is listen to sermons and recently I listened to one by Ligon Duncan on “How Jesus Gives You Peace” from John 14:1, 16:33, 2 Thessalonians 3:16,18.  The sermon can be found here.  I encourage you to take the time to listen to it.  The sermon so resonated with me that I thought I would share my summary of the sermon with you below:

We know that if we are a believer we have peace with God.  Our sins have been forgiven and the dividing wall of sin that stands between us and God has been removed by Christ’s sacrifice for us and therefore gives us peace with God (Rom 5:1).  However, we also read in 2 Thessalonians 3:16-18 the Apostle Paul’s prayer that Christians would have peace.  Which raises the question,”Why is Paul praying this??”  If Christians already have peace, then why pray for peace?  Because Christians face circumstances in this world that are “peace robbing,” and Paul is very concerned that believers receive all the subjective encouragement which can possibly be received from the glorious objective things that God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  Paul knows that we need peace in this world of trouble. However this is not something found only in the New Testament!  In Numbers 6:24-26 we read how God commanded Moses to have the priest pray this beautiful blessing on God’s people,

The LORD bless you, and keep you; 25 The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; 26 The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’ (Numbers 6:24-26 NAU)

Peace, in this context, is the total well being that comes from God’s favor.  So how does a believer get this sense of total well being that comes from God’s favor?  There are three passages that are very helpful as we consider having peace in the midst of turmoil:

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. (John 14:1 NAU)

This is on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and His disciples know that He is going away and so Jesus is telling His disciples the remedy to a troubled heart.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NAU)

Now Jesus tells them why He has been teaching them all these things.

Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all! 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:16,18 NAU)

How do you get peace from Jesus?  These passages tell us four ways.

  1. The way we receive peace from Jesus is through faith.
  2. The way we receive peace from Jesus is through truth.
  3. The way we receive peace from Jesus is through presence.
  4. The way we receive peace from Jesus is through grace.

Before looking at these four things, it is important to note that the peace that Paul is talking about in 2 Thessalonians 3:16 comes from Jesus Himself.  The phrase “Lord of peace” is a reference to Isaiah 9:6 and the “Prince of Peace” who is Jesus the Messiah.  So it is Jesus who wants to give peace to His people and that peace is a gift from Him.  Eastern religions say you can self generate peace through meditation & body posture.  But the Bible tells us that we cannot generate this kind of peace, as it comes to us as a gift from Christ.  This peace is put within you by Jesus, but it does not come from within you, it is a gift from the Lord of peace.

Therefore, the way Jesus gives you peace is, first of all, through faith (John 14:1).  Interestingly, in John 13-17 Jesus is preparing to face the cross, but He is not preoccupied with Himself, but rather with His disciples; we see this in the words of John 14:1.  Jesus gives us the remedy for a troubled heart; “believe in God, believe also in Me.” It is through faith in Jesus, trusting in Jesus, that He gives you peace.   Put your hope & confidence in Jesus and you will have peace.  Faith is not just something for the beginning of the Christian life.  We walk by faith, not by sight!  Jesus says I want you to have peace in this world of trouble and this is how it starts, by believing in Me.

Secondly, look at John 16:33.  Between John 13 to 17, Jesus speaks to His disciples in the upper room about doctrines such as election and the Trinity.  These are not the basics of the Christian Faith; instead Jesus is dealing with some mind blowing theological topics.  And when Jesus wraps it all up in John 16:33, He says to His disciples, “Why have I been teaching you all these things?”  So that you would have peace!  What we learn from this is that we get peace from God’s truth.  Peace not only comes from faith, but also from the truth of God’s Word.  As we read the Word and hear it preached from the pulpit, we listen, not just so that we can learn information, but that we might receive peace.  We get through trials & tribulations as we read & listen to the Word.  The Word of God is meant to be peace generating.

Next look at 2 Thessalonians 3:16.  This is a prayer of benediction or blessing on God’s people.  In this prayer, Paul prays for God’s presence to be with His people.  Now this may raise a question in the minds of some because is not the Lord always with us?  The answer is, “yes”.  It is like peace; we have peace, yet we still need peace.  Likewise, the Lord is with you, and yet Paul prays that the Lord would be with you.  Paul knows how important this is.  There was a time in Paul’s life in which he was entirely alone.  It was when he was giving testimony to the highest court in the Roman Empire. In 2 Timothy 4:16 Paul tells us that he was alone because everyone deserted him.  But if you look at verse 17 you see that Paul was not alone, for he says, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me…”.  Paul had been humanly abandoned by every Christian friend in that moment of great trial, but he was not alone!  Paul tells us here of one of the Christian’s great sources of peace; the sense of God’s presence (Immanuel; “God with us!”).

Finally, look at 2 Thessalonians 3:18.  There can be no peace without God’s grace; God’s forgiving favor poured out on us, though we are undeserving in the extravagantly expensive gift of His own Son who died in our place, that we might be forgiven, free, and finally alive.  Think for a moment how expensive this free grace is.  To you it is given freely.  Peace is given to you that you do not deserve.  How is it that God has granted to me, a sinner, that kind of peace through His grace?  What was the cost to me?  Nothing!  What was the cost to Him?  Everything!  How does the Prince of Peace give me that peace?  He gave up that peace for me.  That peace was His birthright.  If ever a being in this universe deserved the favor of God’s total well being bestowed upon Him, it was Jesus.  And He gave it up on the cross and cried out, “My God!  My God!  Why have You forsaken Me?”  So that the resurrected Jesus could give you that peace.  It is a very expensive peace.  Free to you, very costly to Him.

Do not give God’s benedictions (His blessings) a casual glance.  God does not give you blessings that you do not need.  We need peace and God pours out His blessing of peace on us.  You have peace and you will have peace, but it is my prayer that you will experience that peace; especially when you need it the most.  The way you will do that is through faith, truth, a sense of His presence, and grace.  In Christ,  Pastor Rick


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Reading For Spiritual Maturity

Have you ever wondered how well we really know each other in the church?  Even at Heartland Community Church, as much as we love each other and seem to enjoy being with each other, how well do people really know you?  I recently have had several conversations with people where I have shared how much I struggle with reading.  Reading is a difficult task for me and one that requires constant work.  When I share my struggles, most people are surprised as they assume that I have always loved to read and that it comes easily to me!

The reality is, I have simply come to realize how important it is for Christians to read.  Over the years I have noticed that many of the preachers I look up to, (both living and deceased), have at least one thing in common; they read-and extensively at that.  So while reading takes great effort for me, I have discovered it a task worth laboring for and one that produces great spiritual fruit.  Therefore, while it still does not come easily, I seek to read on a regular basis and the labor has proven to be profitable for my spiritual life and those whom I pastor.

However reading materials of substance such as the Bible and other “soul-fattening” books (ie: works that will increase your knowledge, your love for the Lord and your confidence in Scripture), is an art that seems to be quickly disappearing; even in the church.  The culture around us is doing everything it can to encourage us to no longer think deeply, but rather to be satisfied with being entertained; to simply give in to what we want to do or think we ought to do without examination.  Let’s face it, it is much easier to give in to cultural pressures & expectations than fight for what would foster spiritual maturity.

But in Romans 12:2 we read,

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 NAU)

Paul commands us to give ourselves wholly to God because of His saving grace and the way we do so is by the renewing of our mind.  Therefore, as Christians we are to give ourselves to the reading of God’s Word and other spiritually edifying teaching (i.e. “soul-fattening” books).  So in light of these truths, this month I would like to recommend several resources that may encourage someone who desires to develop the habit of reading.   I think you will find each of these quite manageable, and yet quite edifying.  Many of these resources have been useful to me in developing daily habits of reading books with substance, and very enjoyable in the process as well!  Here are my selections:

OwenA Long Line of Godly Men edited by Steven Lawson — The first set of books that I would like to recommend is a series of biographies of great Christian men.  The series is entitled A Long Line Of Godly Men Profile and put out by Ligonier Ministries.  This series highlights different godly men, such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, George Whitfield, Issac Watts, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards,  John Knox and John Owen. What makes these biographies so unique is that the first chapters usually outlines the events of the man’s life and the rest of the book speaks of his contribution to the church.  I am currently reading Owen’s biography that addresses his emphasis on the Trinity and how this impacts the life of the believer.  Approximately 150 Pages.  http://www.ligonier.org/store/collection/long-line-godly-men/

Other books I would recommend for your consideration are:

HamiltonThe Faith Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton – This is one of my favorite books to recommend to people.  The chapters are intentionally brief and packed with biblical teaching to encourage and challenge both younger and older Christians; and above all to point us relentlessly to Jesus Christ ‘the founder and perfecter of our faith’.  Which is important as the life of faith is not easy.  The Christian is engaged in an unrelenting warfare with the world, the flesh and the devil. Every step forward will be contested. The one thing that will keep the believer on track and pressing on is moment by moment trust in God, in his word, in the goodness and perfection of his purposes, and in his exceedingly great and precious promises. ‘This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith’ (1 John 5:4).  I have used this book in my personal daily worship; reading through a chapter a day. It is concise, yet thought provoking. 160 Pages.  http://banneroftruth.org/us/store/christian-living/faith-shaped-life/

foxes Catching Foxes by John Henderson – This book/workbook is one that my wife and I use on a regular basis for pre-marital counseling with engaged couples because it is designed to guide couples toward a Christ-centered and Christ-exalting paradigm for marriage.  While meant for couples, I think it could be adapted by parents as well who seek to train & equip their young adult children for marriage.  282 pages.  http://www.amazon.com/Catching-Foxes-Ph-D-John-Henderson/dp/1105894096

kjvReformation Heritage Study Bible by Joel Beeke, Michael Barret, and Gerald Bilkes (editors) – I recently got this Bible for Christmas and love it.  It does come in KJV only, but the thousands of study notes with integrated cross-references; the articles on key Christian teachings; concordance, color maps, daily reading plan; overview of twenty centuries of church history; ancient creeds, confessions and catechisms with introductions; articles on how to live the Christian life and guidance on how to experience the truths of the Bible make it an excellent study Bible.  In addition to all that, I like that they have included discussion questions for each chapter of the Bible that can be used for personal or family worship.  It is available in print or digital formats.  2216 Pages.  http://www.heritagebooks.org/categories/rhb-publications/bibles.html

peaceThe Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard by Kara Tippetts – While this is the story of a PCA pastor’s wife who struggles with stage four cancer, it is written to everyone, not just those who struggle with cancer.  Because every Christian experiences difficulties in life, this book has something for everyone.  Kara doesn’t offer answers for when living is hard, but she asks us to join her in moving away from fear and control and toward peace and grace. Most of all, she draws us back to the God who is with us, in the mundane and the suffering, and who shapes even our pain into beauty.  192 pages. http://www.mundanefaithfulness.com/the-hardest-peace-book/

GREENHILL-front__71709_1411579219_315_315Puritan Treasures for Today series – As you have probably noticed already, I really enjoy reading Puritan writers.  One reason is that they think deeply about Biblical truths that they might love God and others more completely.  They exhibit a passion and love for God that I only aspire to.  But often, reading these giants of the faith is a bit unnerving.  The Puritan Treasures for Today Series seeks to overcome that barrier by presenting Puritan books that are convenient in size and are not intimidating in length. Each book is carefully edited with modern readers in mind, smoothing out difficult language of a bygone era while retaining the meaning of the original authors. Books for the series are thoughtfully selected to provide some of the best counsel on important subjects that people continue to wrestle with today.  Titles in this series include Triumphing Over Sinful Fear by John Flavel; Stop Loving the World by William Greenhill; The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith by George Swinnock; Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory by Jeremiah Burroughs and can be found at Reformation Heritage Books. Approximately 150 pages.  http://www.heritagebooks.org/categories/RHB-Publications/Puritan-Treasures-For-Today/

If I may be of any assistance to you in your reading venture, please let me know. I would love to know of others who are joining with me in seeking to increase their reading habits, and assure you that you will not regret doing so!   I pray that you may grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as you grow in your habit of reading God’s Word and “soul-fattening” books!

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