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The Apostle Paul wrote 13 letters that are in the Bible. In his introductorygrace peace remarks at the beginning of each letter he includes this salutation, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In the concluding remarks of his epistles he writes, “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

Peter wrote two letters. He begins his letters with the phrase, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” He ends his first letter with these words, “Peace to all who are in Christ.” The second letter ends with “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

I think grace and peace are the most important possessions we can have to be truly happy people. We need the grace and peace that comes from God to enjoy God in His happy kingdom.

Think of Paul before his close encounter with Christ. He claims that as for righteousness based on the law he was faultless, and as for zeal he persecuted the church (Philippians 3:6). He thought he could do it all spiritually speaking. He certainly tried, but apart from the grace of God he had no peace. Imagine the peace that flooded his soul when he encountered the grace that come from trusting Jesus and living in right relationship with God.

Think of Peter, living and learning from Jesus for three years. Boasting that he would never deny the Lord, willing to die for him if necessary. Hours later Peter claimed vehemently that he never knew Jesus. Jesus looked at Peter as Peter made his last denial while the rooster was crowing. He fled in tears. Not a lot of peace there. But later, he received abundant grace and forgiveness and was able to live and ultimately die, crucified upside down, in great peace.

It’s no wonder Paul and Peter begin and end their letters with reminders to their readers of grace and peace that are only found in Jesus Christ. It defined their lives. Those qualities of grace and peace were the foundation of everything they believed and did.

What did they have in mind when they used the words grace and peace.

With grace they meant the free gift of God that comes through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. This gift, totally undeserved by humans, transforms mere existence into Life, survival into thriving and flourishing.

Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but a deep and abiding sense that in the turmoil, confusion, pain and loss that we experience living in this broken world, there is Someone who is ultimately in control; a Savior who not only keeps us from going crazy, but who imbues us with a feeling of contentment. A God who loves us and wants us to be happy.

I live in Mexico and cooperate with God at a home for needy children. In the last two weeks we have experienced two really big earthquakes – an 8.2 and a 7.1 that caused incredible damage and took the lives of almost 400 people. Fortunately, by the grace of God, there was no physical damage to any of the buildings here at the mission, but many of the children, including my own two daughters, are constantly aware of what could possible happen and are reminded almost daily with the aftershocks. We felt four yesterday. To some extent we all waver between nervousness about whether or not there will be another earthquake, to outright fear. My daughters talk about earthquakes many times a day and sleep with us at night for fear of more of them.

I don’t understand much about God and natural disasters and suffering and loss. I can’t figure out exactly why God does what he does. I am perplexed at many turns on lifes long road. But I am grateful to God for that Peace that brings wholeness and well-being. That peace of God that makes me secure on the inside, even though things appear miserable on the outside. That peace of mind that comes from the God of peace. The peace of God which transcends all understanding and guards my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. The peace I have when I trust in the LORD with all my heart, and lean not on my own reasoning.

Peter and Paul begin and end their letters with Grace and Peace. May we begin each day by meditating and contemplating the incredible grace we have through Christ, and end each day thanking God for peace in our lives.

grace peace 2

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I read something disturbing the other day in 1 Thessalonians 2.  Paul wanted to go to civil war trenchThessalonica to encourage the believers there.  He loved and missed the small band of brothers and sisters there.  He had to flee the city just months before for fear of his life.  He said he tried again and again to return, but he couldn’t go.  Why?  Because Satan hindered him.  What’s up with that?  How could Satan hinder the great Apostle Paul?  At first I didn’t get it.  Could not understand.  I thought of an ant trying to hinder an elephant on his journey.  Paul was going to do the Lord’s work, but Satan kept him from it.  It made no sense to me.

Then I began to study the issue.  I dug deeper into God’s Word.  I pondered the situation and began to chew on the problem.  Many times that is what we have to do to find the truth behind the truth in the Holy Scripture.

I read a commentary that mentioned how Satan can hinder the will of man, but can never hinder the Will of God.  It was Paul’s will to go to Thessalonica, but it was not God’s will.  Sometimes God closes one good door of ministry, or allows Satan to close it, because God is opening another door to a better ministry opportunity.  Such was the case with Paul.  Paul wrote those words from the city of Corinth, which, it seems, he didn’t like so much.  He was getting frustrated and fed up with the people there.   He wanted to get out of Dodge and head back to Thessalonica.  But God, but God, had different plans.  In order to grow the Kingdom God’s way, Paul needed to stay put in Corinth.  God revealed this to Paul, and he not only learned to be content in Corinth, but he prospered.

The second thing I learned about this initially disturbing passage, was the Greek meaning of the Word “hinder”.  It means to build a trench to to slow down or stop an enemy.  It is what armies do when they are retreating and want to slow down or stop an enemy from advancing and inflicting damages.  I thought of the Civil War.  General Grant is attacking General Lee’s army.  It’s 1864.  Grant has an overwhelming force compared to Lee.  Several times Grant would attack, and Lee would fall back and dig trenches in order to stop Grant.  Usually Grant would attack and be held off, suffering thousands of casualties in the process.  Then Grant would try and go around Lee.  Lee would pull back again and dig more trenches, and hold Grant back yet again.  It took awhile, but Grant, with superior strength and numbers, eventually caused the surrender of Lee at Appomattox in 1865.

That’s all Satan can do against Christians and the power of the Kingdom of God.  Retreat.  Give up ground.  Dig trenches.  Retreat again.  Dig more trenches.  And the Kingdom of God keeps advancing against a significantly weaker foe.

So what is Satan hindering the Apostle Paul all about?   It’s about God will being done, not ours.  It’s about God having a better plan than we do.  It’s about Satan and his beastly hordes always on the defensive, always beating a quick retreat and digging futile trenches to try and slow the advance of almighty God and His Christian Soldiers.  All this because God loves us, and although we might lose the occasional battle, we can be sure of eventually winning the war.  How do I know?  I’ve read the end of the Book, and we win!  What a happy note to end with.

***************************************
I’ve read the back of the book and we win,
no more livin’ in darkness we’ll be living at home with HIM.
You see there’s no need to worry about it if you’re born again.
I’ve read the back of the book and we win.

 

I have been enjoying  Paul’s letter to the Colossians for the last month or so, and the idea of thanks, thankfulness and gratitude keeps popping up. Seven times in four chapters.  Some say Philippians is a book whose theme is joy, because the words joy and rejoice are prominent.  I think it’s safe to say Colossians is a book whose theme is thanks.  See what you think.

Colossians 1:3
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people.

A Good Start

Paul starts most of his letters with a word or prayer of thanksgiving for the recipients, and the Christians in the church in Colossae were no exception. Paul had never visited that church, but they had a great reputation for their faith in Jesus and for loving God’s people. What if we started everday with a prayer of thanks for God’s people? All of God’s people – even those we don’t get along with, those who think differently than we do, those who offend us. Paul had to deal with all those types in his letter to the Corinthians, but he starts his letter to them by saying, “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” A great way to start a letter and a day.

1:12
(We are) giving joyful thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

Joyful Thanks

Paul is not just thankful, but for the second time in his prayer, he (and Timothy) give joyful thanks to the Father. He is full of joy as he gives thanks because he knows that these believers in Colossae, whom he has never met, are in the same boat with him with regards to being graciously chosen by God to share in the inheritance and to be brought into the kingdom of light. Certainly something to give joyful thanks about.

2:6-7
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Overflowing With Thankfulness

First Paul gives thanks, then expresses joyful thanks, and this escalates to overflowing thankfulness. Considering a persons life in Christ, rooted in Christ, built up in Christ, and strengthened in the faith, it should be a natural reaction to overflow with thankfulness. I think of water being poured into a glass, and I have to ask myself, what is my level of thankfulness. Is it about 1/3, 2/3, full, or overflowing? Too many times I have to say 1/3 or 2/3. On a good day it may be full. God help me to truly realize the blessings of a life lived in Christ, and to overflow with thankfulness.

(the peace of Christ, the message of Christ, the name of Christ)

3:15

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Thankful For the Peace

God gives a peace that passes all understanding to those who invite God to sit on the throne of their life. He gives that peace so that we can enjoy personal contentment, but more importantly, to enjoy peace with members in our communities of faith. The peace He gives is more than just the absence of conflict. It is a sense of completeness, wholeness, health, safety, tranquility, rest, prosperity, and harmony. This extends from the individual to the entire community of Christ. Psalm 133 says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in harmony.” Truly something to be thankful for.

3:16
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Grateful Hearts
When the message of Christ dwells richly in individual hearts and corporately in the community of faith, then singing, and shouts for joy full of gratitude will be heard. A thankful heart is a happy heart.

3:17

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Do it All
Have you got something to say? Then say every word in the name of the Lord Jesus, as if He were saying it through you. Have you got something to do? Then make every action count, as if Christ were working through you. It’s amazing that God has chosen any of us to cooperate with Him in building the kingdom with our words and deeds. Thank you God for allowing us to partner with you with our lips and with with our hands in making this world a better place.

4:2
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

A great Ending
Paul set the example in the first chapter. He prayed for the Colossians. He thanked God for them. Paul was ever watchful, alert for stories of Christ followers living lives of faith, hope and love. He heard about these Colossian Christians and was grateful for their lives, their words and their works. Now in the last chapter, Paul admonishes them to follow his example by being devoted to prayer, watching for good gifts from a gracious God, and being thankful.