On Peace and Mental Strength


You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
—Isaiah 26:3 ESV

I’m reading How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. One of the startling study results noted in this book is that stress may be the major difference between a child that learns and one that doesn’t. Remove stressors from a child’s life and brain function kicks into learning gear. Add stress, and it shuts down. Memory and recall suffer. The difference between the smart kid and the not-so-smart one in any classroom may have little to do with the smart one going to some tony pre-preschool and everything to do with the not-so-smart kid being bounced between relatives and getting smacked around. So if you’re thinking about having your 4-year-old tutored in pre-algebra, perhaps give her more hugs instead. Seriously.

Another fact from the book discusses the reality of modern life that our stress levels are through the roof and unceasing. While “olden day” stressors such as evading enemies cause a needful surge in stress chemicals within our bodies, that kind of physical stress is wholly different than mental stress. That latter kind, which is part and parcel of modern living, doesn’t spike and then fade like the evading enemies kind does. Instead, it persists and causes all sorts of longterm damage within the body.

In short, our American lifestyle is packed with mental stressors that ruin our health–and make us forgetful and stupid.

Jesus said this:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
—John 14:26-27 ESV

Holy SpiritPeople often quote the second half of that verse alone, but in separating it from the first half, we lose meaning. The promise Jesus makes is that He is leaving, but the Spirit is coming. His Spirit will quicken His disciples to remember. He gives them peace.

In breaking up that passage, we divorce receiving the Spirit from peace. But read that passage again; the two are linked.

The world can’t give us the Spirit. The world can’t give us peace. God can do both through His Son Jesus.

Note also how the Spirit helps us to learn and remember. While the world’s stressors make us forget, the Spirit counters that mental erasure.

Want more peace in your life? Want to be sharper mentally? Ask God for more of the Spirit of Jesus. Learn what it means to live by the Spirit. Sadly, it’s almost a lost art to live by the Spirit and not by our human understanding or wisdom. The things of Man fail; the things of God do not.

Cultivate the Spirit and you will know peace—and be strong in your thinking.

YOU Feed Them


Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish–unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
—Luke 9:12-17

I’ve probably heard more sermons on the feeding of the 5,000 than just about any other miracle in the Bible. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on the aspect of it I’m going to write about today.

Some people will contend that I’m critical of the Church. Fact is, I love the Church. I want to see the Church be all she can be, because I know that when she walks in the fullness of her beauty, she takes on the transcendence of her Lover and the world around her transforms.

Which is why I am so crestfallen when I hear Christian people tell me how they are suffering in the midst of the plenty that is their own local church. Basket of breadI hear from people with basic needs that any person in the church could meet with a modicum of effort, yet that need goes unfulfilled.

Honestly, I can think of few things more crushing to the spiritual life of another than to sit in church on Sunday and hear a sermon on God’s bounty, surrounded by people who are abounding, but not being one of them.

Increasingly, there exists a Christian rhetoric that states, I don’t have to do anything to help you because God will help you on His own, if someone prays hard enough. The problem is that the more I read the Scriptures, the more I’m convinced that mentality is the exact opposite of what God is trying to tell us about the way He works.

In the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke, Jesus makes—what is to me, at least—one of the most startling statements in the New Testament. The disciples, sensitive to the growing need of the crowd for food, alert Jesus to the problem, but He responds that the disciples should feed them. Almost instantly, the excuses start.

How the rest of the miracle unfolds is also telling. It happened while the disciples finally did the work that Jesus requested. As they handed out the food from the baskets, the miracle progressed. It didn’t happen before the work. In other words, Jesus didn’t make extra baskets of food materialize at His feet before the dazzled onlookers. Only as the disciples walked from person to person handing out food did the true nature of the miracle unfold. Jesus asked them to feed the crowd, and they did.

We gloss over that the disciples were active participants in the work of meeting the needs of others. The disciples were partners in the miracle.

Paul writes:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
—Romans 10:14-15

In short, the Lord wants the Gospel to go out, and it goes out because a real person delivers it. No one will hear unless a flesh and blood human does the work.

Paul also writes this:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
—2 Corinthians 5:20a

The king empowers an ambassador to be his full representative. An ambassador can make decisions and perform actions as if the king himself were making or performing them. The king’s decree and charge make that power possible.

This comes by the Holy Spirit living in us. A couple verses before, Paul wrote this:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
—2 Corinthians 5:17-19

Note well that final phrase.

Paul also writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
—2 Corinthians 3:18

The new birth and our transformation into Christ’s fullness make it possible for us to be ambassadors.

2 Corinthians 5 concludes with this amazing statement:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
—2 Corinthians 5:21

Christian, you are the righteousness of God! Wherever you go, you are His salt, His light, His full representative, His very image.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:16-17

…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
—Philippians 2:13

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:10

Are we walking in those good works that God prepared beforehand?  Are we seeing the need and filling it because God has equipped us to meet needs because He Himself lives in us? Or are we reading the Bible just to fill our heads with more knowledge about work we aren’t doing?

This passage is telling:

And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
—Acts 3:2-8

What is notably absent from that healing and the way Peter and John worked? I’ll let you think about that for a while.

God intends for us Spirit-filled believers to do the work. We’re already equipped. We’re already charged.

But Dan, what about these?

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
—John 15:5

But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
—Luke 18:27

Folks, these two verses are the poster children for misapplying Scripture and for making excuses for dumping all the responsibility back on God to make anything happen.

The truth is that God lives in you. He is always in you. Where you go, He is. You are the righteousness of God. Anything is possible because God is working through you.

There is NEVER a reason for a fellow believer to be in want. NEVER. If a local church contains people with plenty and people in want, there’s only one word for that church: Ichabod. The glory has departed.

This issue makes me angry. It makes me furious when the Church has been equipped, approved, and charged with the task by God, yet the people in the Church won’t do the work. They throw it back in God’s lap and ask Him to do the work for them instead. As I see it, that’s a complete dismissal of our identity in Christ and a rejection of the Holy Spirit in us.

How ironic that we abort our responsibility when confronted with people in need, yet what follows are the first things the newly Spirit-filled Church did:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
—Acts 2:42-45

If God puts someone with a legitimate need before me, there’s nothing for me to pray about. I already know what to do. I’m to do the work and meet the need as best I can in light of all that Christ has given to me and done for me. And if the need is too great, then I pull the rest of the Church in and we meet the need. When we do the work because we have the faith and the equipping for it, then the miracle will progress through us because of what Christ has already done in us.

If we learn no other truth this year, that one will be enough.

Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 1


Unbroken circleIn the first entry in this series, we looked at the Biblical foundation for asserting that the Lord is powerfully for community. His model for how we’re supposed to live and minister are based in community, not the rugged individualism we find so prevalent in the American mindset.

Regular readers will know that posts on community turn up frequently at Cerulean Sanctum. (Search on the Community category in the sidebar.) As I mentioned yesterday, I believe that many of the problems facing the American Church today are based in flawed or non-existent community. Clean up how we do community, and many  of these problems will fade away, leaving us to better serve the Lord and each other.

Many people talk about community, but achieving vital community within our churches is another issue altogether. I think the Lord is sick of talk; He wants to see us start living what we’re talking about.

So how do we start developing community?

Today, we’ll look at basic ways to turn talk about community into the kind of fellowship that dwells in one accord.

#1 – Every hour of every day, say, “It’s not about me.”

    Christianity, at its core, is others-centered. Love the Lord. Lord your neighbor. The heart of the Christian is inclined to Christ, and as Christ gave Himself away, we should give ourselves away. Freely we have received, freely we give.

Aren’t we always quickened by missionary stories that tell of extraordinary sacrifice? David Brainerd gave to the lost Indians he encountered till his tuberculosis-racked body gave out. Jim Elliot took a spear to the back so a primitive tribe others forgot might escape eternal torment. Hudson Taylor buried most of his family in China, yet because of his selflessness, the Chinese Church not only thrives today, but shames us with their faithfulness amid persecution.

The great Christians are so because they gave themselves away, sometimes even to martyrdom.

It’s about Christ. It’s about others. However unpopular that may be with us “King of the Hill” Christians in America, the truth remains. Community starts with understanding that you and I are tiny (albeit essential) bits of the Body of Christ. If we’ve truly died to the world, then being a tiny bit consecrated to a greater purpose is pure joy.

If we’re still holding onto our selves, then “it’s not about me” will grate on us. We’ll find any avenue we can to pave over that truth. And when it’s finally buried, we’ll paint a happy face over the top and go on serving ourselves.

But don’t call that Christian discipleship.

#2 – When a person shares a need with us, we should instinctively ask, “How can I help meet your need?”

    Nothing angers me more than the hands-off approach some Christians take with the needy. Those quasi-disciples have this bizarre notion that aiding the hurting, shattered, and destitute will somehow stymie whatever God is trying to do in that person’s life. It’s as if we believe that God is going out of His way to punish the hurting, shattered, and destitute, and any comfort or assistance we give that poor person will throw a monkey wrench into God’s rack of discipline.

Nonsense. I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover enough times to know that such thinking is nothing more than an excuse to do nothing.

On the other hand, the Bible is loaded with hundreds of verses commanding us to look after the less fortunate. For those who hold to the less is more concept of helping others, here’s a favorite of mine:

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.
—Proverbs 21:13 ESV


No, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to imitate our Master. He did not rebuke the needy, but met their need. Notice His response in this passage:

As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
—Luke 18:35-43 ESV

Jesus did not attempt to blame the man for anything. He did not try to explain to the man that God was disciplining him through his blindness. No, Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

A servant asks that question. Because our Lord came as a servant, we are to ask the same question if we are to be like Him.

Don’t unload a needy person’s request on someone else, even if that someone else is God. If you wish to bring others into the situation to help, by all means do so, especially God. But take responsibility by asking, “How can I help meet your need?” Then meet the need with every resource God has given you.

Some of you may wonder how this makes for vital community. The answer is simple: If we’re collectively meeting the needs of others, when it comes our time to be needy (and our time WILL come), our needs will be met. I don’t have to spend all my time watching my own back because the brethren are doing it for me, just as I am for them.

But it has to start with us. We may even run a deficit on returns, yet we do it nonetheless. Maybe if enough of us do it within our churches, being true servants will catch on. And so will true community.

#3 –  The Holy Spirit created Christian community ex-nihilo, so we better be Spirit-filled.

    No sooner had the Holy Spirit fallen at Pentecost than we see this at the close of Acts 2:


And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:44-47 ESV

The echoes of Peter’s Pentecost sermon still reverberated among the palisades of Jerusalem, yet already the Lord was forging a vital community. A Spirit-filled church will naturally pursue community. One of the hallmarks of being filled with the Lord is a godly inclination toward others. It’s inescapable.

If there’s no real community at your church, then the Holy Spirit’s not there. Pure and simple. If your church is a tenuous affiliation of individuals, then I don’t care how powerful you may think the preaching, teaching, and worship are, your church is stone cold dead. We’ve got to stop lying to ourselves. The proof of the Holy Spirit’s absence is right there in the lack of community within our churches.

If that’s your church, you don’t have to go down without a fight. Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.

Find at least a couple other people dying for community, then pick a night when you can go to your church and throw yourselves face down before God, praying until the Spirit shows up. Fast and pray till heaven opens. Do it long enough and others might notice. Maybe they’ll join, too.

Are we serious enough about community to take whatever steps we must to have the kind of community we prattle on about? I know I’m deadly serious about this issue because I think it means life or death for the American Church. Yes, the devil can no sooner wipe out the worldwide church than you or I can blow out the sun, but that doesn’t guarantee the American Church won’t be reduced to a handful of embers. God’s going to send His Spirit where people are serious about the cost of discipleship.  And part of that cost is putting down our self-centered lives to pursue a life of real community.

#4 – Judgment may begin with the house of God, but so does charity.

    Take another look at the Acts 2 passage above. What needy people were the first recipients of the Church’s charity? People in the Church!

We can’t serve people outside our churches if we can’t serve people inside them. And too often, that’s exactly the case. We think that once a person becomes a Christian, they don’t need help from the brethren. We wrongly toss needy fellow believers back into God’s hands and go out to help those outside.

What witness to the world is that, though? Why would anyone want to be a part of a community that’s willing to help people UNTIL they become part of the community? Look at enough cults and you’ll be surprised how many act just that way.

Sadly, I’ve known Christian churches that do that. Time and again they fail because they forgot that charity begins at home. We minister to the believers first, then to those outside the community.

Does this run the risk of being too inwardly focused? Sure. But if a community of folks dead to the world makes up your church, they’ll need less and less inner support as time goes on. Soon, most of the community will require only a minimum of support at the most critical times, and more time can be spent ministering to the needs of those outside the community of faith.

Some would go so far as to say that there is no distinction between inside and outside. David Fitch’s The Great Giveaway cranks the amp to eleven by stating that all charity should be within the church community: Definitely offer help to the needy outside our churches, but with the stipulation that they become part of the church first. That’s some serious tough love, but I can see the wisdom in it. Think of the wide-eyes among nonbelievers when encountering the early Christians looking after each other the way they did. I’m sure many of those pagans were dying to have some of what the Christians had.

How many lost people today are dying to have what we have? Are they beating down the doors of our churches to get in?

If we start thinking along the lines of the four points raised in this post, we’ll make progress toward true community in our churches. In the days ahead, we’ll discuss other ways that we can work toward the kind of Christian community that will change the world for Christ.

Posts in this series: