The Way to Inner Peace
Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 21 December 2002
Christians are a people of faith. What that means is that our lives as people can be best understood as a pilgrimage that moves slowly and gradually through ever-expanding expressions. The beginning of our faith journey is what John Westerhoff calls an 'affiliative faith'. What that means is our gift of faith comes from observing and copying others. It's at this time that we explore and test. In young children this exploration and testing comes through feelings and sensory experiences through interactions with others and the world around us. The foundations of faith are found in experiences in which we learn to trust other people, ourselves, and our world - not because we are told we are told we are of worth and the world is trustworthy, but because we experience it as such. As observing any child will soon teach you, our actions speak much louder than words. The actions of others frames what people experience. Whilst we do not ourselves give our children faith, we do influence the character of the faith by how we behave with them.
Belonging to a community is very important for the development of a child because we were created spiritually to be communal. Affiliative faith looks to the community and its tradition as its source of authority. Belonging to a community is very important in order to fulfil our need to be wanted and accepted because in the beginning our lives are focussed on feelings, spiritual experiences, and a set of beliefs that claim ultimate truths. But as we journey together this 'affiliative faith' evolves into 'searching faith' and typically begins in the high school years and extends into early adulthood. It is characterised by questioning, critical judgement, and experimentation. It comes in the form of doubt and the struggle to frame philosophical formulations. Through a personal search for truth, we move from dependence on others' understandings to autonomy and independence. To find a faith of our own we therefore need to doubt, question, and test what has been handed down to us. We need to criticise the tradition with which we were brought up and question our own feelings and experiences. During this period it is not faith which is lost but the expressions of faith which belonged to others and which need to become our own if they are to influence our lives.
As the journey continues, 'searching faith' becomes 'mature faith' which integrates the seeming contradiction of 'affiliative' and 'searching faith'. It often begins in middle adulthood and develops until death. In this final stage we are governed by neither the authority of the community nor our own intellectual authority, but by personal echad (oneness) union with Yahweh through free acts of the will. Interdependence integrates the dependence of 'affiliative faith' and the independence of 'searching faith'. Belonging is still important, but people with mature faith are secure enough in their convictions to challenge the community when conscience dictates. However, at the same time, there is no longer the need to be always critical or negative. Doubt, of course, never ends, but people with mature faith have a clear sense of their identity, and are secure enough to be open to both others and to experiences that aid them in a process of continuing growth and development into greater awareness of Yahweh, even closer relationships to Yahweh, and more consistent actions with Yahweh in the world. The intuitive mode of 'affiliative faith' is now integrated with the intellectual mode of 'searching faith'.
This three-stage faith development corresponds to the three stages of Priesthood which exist in the New Covenant Church of God, and these distinctions become very important because of the stewardships attached to them. Thus 'affiliative faith' corresponds to ordinary members, 'searching faith' to the Deaconate, and 'mature faith' to the Eldership:
|Full Membership in NCCG
|Lord's Supper (Communion)
We all grow by being with others who affirm where we are and share with us lives of more expanded faith. And so it is that as adult Christians we need to be first of all concerned about our own growth, and we need always to remember that even mature faith has at its core a childlike faith.
Deep down in our souls we are all searching for love, happiness and peace. It is peace that I particularly want to talk about today, more so as we are going through a particularly difficult time once again. In a year the Church has enormously expanded now from 1 congregation to nearly 70 world-wide but with this expansion has come numerous problems. For one thing, we lack the means to adequately take care of everyone because of the lack of leadership and a desperate shortage of funds which makes face-to-face training almost impossible. And with the thousands now coming to us we have also experienced the pain of loss, as was inevitable, as people within those congregations that have come to us en masse try to figure out whether they personally want to be a part of this change. We've had one Pastor killed in Pakistan, an Elder's wife die of typhoid in India, two East African members killed in the Muslim terrorist bombing of an Israeli-owned Mombassa hôtel, and internal upheavals in West Africa in a couple of other congregations as people debate who should lead them.
In short, we are facing all the problems that accompany a Messianic Community that has more than a handful of members. There are people at different levels of spiritual maturity, there are leaders both capable and inept, and much searching as they adjust to new revelations about Torah and accept the authority of the Apostolate. These events themselves should remind us that the spiritual peace or shalom Christians receive from the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) does not insulate them from concern or loss. And neither will they spare us the internal struggle of emotions.
The shalom which the Apostle Paul describes is a deep, stabilising peace of faith that comes as a gift from Yahweh. It is calmness of soul that enables us to be sure of the goodness and presence of the Elohim even when emotions are whispering and screaming like demons. As an assurance of priceless value, this shalom is more of a 'knowing' than a 'feeling'.
However, we do need to be very, very careful as to what conclusions we come to as a result of this shalom. Although the peace of Yahweh is a gift of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), there are some choices we need to make at three levels of our lives.
A. Surface Issues in the Real World
All around us, and pretty well all the time, there are surface issues that threaten our peace of mind. Because our natural, carnal inclination is to let these surface issues rob us of shalom, Paul gives us two lines of defence: First, he encourages us to bring all our concerns to Yahweh to experience a shalom that goes beyond our ability to understand:
"Be anxious for nothing, but at all times, by prayer and by supplication and with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known before Eloah (God)" (Phil.4:6-7, HRV).
Second, he urges us to refocus our thoughts on what is true, and good, and honourable. He says that if we follow his example the God of peace will be with us:
"Now therefore, my brothers, those things, which are true, and those things, which are sober, and those things which are just, and those things which are pure, and those things which are lovely, and those things which are praiseworthy, and those works of glory and of good report, think these things. Those things, which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, these do, and the Eloah of shalom will be with you" (vv.8-9).
What Paul is not saying is: "If you want peace, think good thoughts. Be positive. Don't think the worst. Think the best about people." This isn't what he said at all. Avoidance was not Paul's style and neither should it be ours. When he focussed his own mind on what is true, and pure, and praiseworthy, he faced his own failures. He went to the rescue of others. He cared to the point of tears. He was realistic about human evil. He did not try to hide from it or pretend it wasn't there. Even in his letter to the Philippians, Paul openly faced disappointments and conflicts that made him cry (3:18). He was advocating a peace - a shalom - that can be experienced with Yahweh in the midst of our problems rather than apart from them. Paul is not the apostle of denial or exclusive positive thinking but about confronting reality for what it is in the supernatural gift of Yahweh's inner shalom.
B. Unseen Motives Below the Surface
The second level at which we need to make stark choices is below the surface where unseen motives shape our responses. All of us live with these subsurface obstacles to shalom. Everything we do is with an unseen motive that in many cases we'd rather not think about. We have a self-centred personal interest that can rob us of our peace of mind and make us seem dangerous to those around us. It is because of these natural or carnal inclinations that Paul urged us to let Yahweh override them with the spirit of His love. Without heartfelt concern for others, there can be no lasting shalom.
Now we come to an important key and also to a mistake that Christians commonly make. For instance, it doesn't do any good to say something like, "For your own peace of mind, start loving and caring for others." Moral emphasis is not the solution. Yahweh doesn't ask us to have right motives because it is the right thing to do. He asks us to love other on the basis of 'underlying foundational issues' which brings me to the third and most important level.
C. Foundational Beliefs in the Depths of our Soul
Just as there is at least one unseen motive behind every action, so every motive rests on an underlying foundation of belief or unbelief. Our natural, carnal tendency is to believe our eyes or our desires. We are most inclined to assess our well-being by counting our natural resources. We are quick to count our money and our friends, or to check our blood pressure and cholesterol to form a belief about how we are doing.
From his prison cell, however, Paul gave us a different example. He urged us to believe that Yah'shua (Jesus) is present (4:5), that Yahweh Himself can give us a shalom we can't understand (4:7), and that our Provider Elohim can be our source of well-being in all the circumstances of life (4:13,19). Even in his repeated appeals for good and honourable motives (2:3-4), Paul made it clear than an honest concern for others must emerge from our own belief that Yahweh is attentively looking after our every need.
It also follows that the way we view the Gospel of Yah'shua (Jesus) will also shape the kind of 'peace' we enjoy. Any kind of doctrine that is false is, if we believe it to be true, going to create an artificial peace which will not stand the test of opposition and difficulties in the outside world. False doctrine will wrongly shape our conscience and therefore not only our mental responses to outside events but also our emotional ones. Our feelings, improperly harnessed to the Ruach (Spirit), will fail to address the challenges of outer trial and cause us to stumble.
The Gospel of Yah'shua (Jesus) is echad - it is a single self-contained unit. The Bible repeatedly tells us, moreover, that this faith is dual, consisting, on the one hand, of faith in Yah'shua (Jesus) as Messiah, and on the other, faith in and obedience to Yahweh's teachings and commandments, the Torah (Law). It is the harmony of these two that brings us true inner shalom. King Solomon recognised this dualism in the pre-Messianic period when he declared:
"Let us hear the conclusion of the entire matter: Fear Elohim and guard His commands, for this applies to all mankind" (Qoheleth 12:13, ISRV).
Or as it is written in another version:
"Now (that) all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (Eccl.12:13, NIV).
That duty has not changed. Under the Messianic Covenant we fear Yahweh by having faith in His Son, Yah'shua (Jesus). As it is written of the true end-time believers:
"And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of Elohim and have the testimony of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ)" (Rev.12:17, NKJV).
"Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Yah'shua (Jesus)" (Rev.14:12-13, NKJV).
"Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie" (Rev.22:13-15, NKJV).
"This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it" (2 John 6, NKJV).
There is no true inner shalom until, first, Torah is being obeyed, and second, Yah'shua (Jesus) is being trusted as Messiah. This, we are told, is the true path of love, and those who love truly always have shalom.
What, then, is the foundational belief of your soul? Is it based on the fear of Yahweh and faith in His Son Yah'shua (Jesus) or upon some counterfeit? Is the fruit of that faith in Yah'shua (Jesus) lawlessness or obedience to Law - to Torah? Yah'shua (Jesus) said:
"Peace (shalom) I leave with you, My peace (shalom) I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you" (John 14:27a, NKJV).
The world is lawless or Torahless because it rejects God's statutes. And He assures us, in the same breath, that if it is His shalom we have, and not the world's, then we need never fear:
"Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (v.27b).
Thus, fearing Yahweh, having faith in Yah'shua (Jesus), and obeying Torah, we have our inner rest. Then the outer Sabbath has become an inner reality (OB 102:33-41). Amen.
1. John H. Westerhoff III, Bringing Up Children in the Christian Faith (Winston Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1980)
2. Mart de Haan, The Path to Peace (RBC Been Thinking About Newsletter, Dec-Feb 2002-3).
This page was created on 13 December 2002
Last updated on 13 December 2002
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