Slow Me Down Lord, and GIve Me Peace

By Tom Wacaster

Hurry, hurry, hurry! You ought to see my calendar. I have tasks to be completed, sermons to prepare, visits that need to be made, mail that needs to be read, and correspondence that needs my attention. It is incredible how many otherwise “little” things can cause stress when multiplied in number and urgency. I can tell you from practical experience that there is nothing that can stress a person out more than selling a house, buying another one, and getting all your goods from one location to the next with the least amount of damage and in a timely fashion. But moving is not the only thing that can cause stress; in fact, life is filled with unexpected events, uncaring people, and uncontrollable circumstances, all of which can (and often do) rob us of the peace and serenity that all of us desire, and for which we strive. Unfortunately, for many, peace is like the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; so near, yet so far away. Tragically, the great majority of our world will never realize the true peace “that passeth all understanding” and which will “guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). The kind of peace that Paul was speaking of is not simply inactivity in a busy world; though sometimes it might do us good to slow down and be less active from time to time. I have known some people who were very active, maintaining a full schedule, with little time to actually do some of the things we might classify as recreation. Mack Lyon shared the following incident in his life that illustrates this very point:

I was preaching in another state when I was trying to come up with a clear and understandable definition of peace. I was staying in a motel and eating some of my meals at their restaurant. The waitress who served my table that Saturday was a middle-aged lady, very ordinary looking, modestly dressed, and she did a good job. I had an idea she was not there for the same reason I sometimes play a round of golf and others go fishing. She was there because she had to work. She was busy, but she seemed orderly. You and I both know, not every customer is pleased with the food or the service in any eating establishment, but she maintained a positive and peaceful attitude through it all. I watched her and I thought, how can she be so calm and composed in all this confusion? Sometimes even humming a little tune. How can she maintain such a good attitude in spite of what people are saying and doing? How can she go on like this, just being a waitress, knowing that someone else owns the place and is making the money? How can she keep from being a bit self envious? How does she avoid self pity? Or bitterness? How does she maintain a pleasant smile? And it came to me: That’s it! That’s what I’m talking about! Peace within—the peace that passes understanding is that serenity to accept the unavoidable and inevitable in life with grace and gratitude! (FW Lectures, Standing On The Promises of God, page 263-264).

Right on target! Peace is not non-involvement. It is not the “ability to sit in apathy and idleness and watch a needy, suffering world rush off in every direction in pursuit of its own destruction” (Mack Lyon). As Phillip Keller noted, “The path of peace is not strewn softly with rose petals. Rather it is a tough trail tramped out with humble heart and lowly spirit despite its rough rocks of adversity (Phillip Keller, A Gardner Looks At The Fruit of the Spirit).

Perhaps one key to overcoming stress and capturing the peace we so desperately desire is found in the ability to take a few precious moments along the way, slow down, and count our blessings. The following was written by Orin Crain: Slow Me Down Lord.

Slow me down, Lord. Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind.  Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time. Give me, amid the confusion of the day, the calmness of the everlasting hills. Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory. Teach me the art of taking minute vacations—of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to smile at a child, to read a few lines from a good book. Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values, that I may grow toward my greater destiny. Remind me each day that the race is not always to the swift; that there is more to life than increasing its speed. Let me look upward to the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.

The Valley Of The Shadow of Death

by Tom Wacaster

To many a man, death is the final farewell, the ultimate defeat at the end of life’s long journey toward the unknown. With each tick of the clock we draw ever closer to death and eternity. Herbert Lockyer is credited with having said, “As soon as a child is born it begins its pilgrimage to the grave. ‘He that begins to live begins to die.’” I do not know who wrote the following, but it is certainly thought provoking: “Death is the separation of a person from the purpose or use for which he was intended. It deprives him of that for which he was created. This definition will fit the word death in whatever connection it is found. Man was created to live forever—physically. Physical or natural death deprives him of that. He was intended for the presence of God—spiritually. Spiritual death separates him from that. He was created to dwell with God forever—eternally. Eternal death robs him of that privilege” (source not recorded). James boiled it down to eight words: “The body apart from the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). The unbeliever knows that death is an inevitable reality. Every time he passes a cemetery he is reminded of his limited time upon this terrestrial globe. With each issue of the daily paper he is made aware that the obituary column he reads today may contain his name tomorrow.

While the reality of death surrounds us, how we view death depends to a large degree on our view of the world and eternity. The hopelessness of the unbeliever has been captured in the sentiments expressed by renowned men of the world. Voltaire was the leading voice of French infidelity in the 18th Century. Near the end of his life he declared, “I wish I had never been born.” Robert Ingersoll, famed atheist of the 19th century, once wrote, “I am afraid of the land of the shadows—the dim ‘beyond’ is filled with frightful shapes or appears perfectly empty, which is still more frightful.” At the funeral of his brother, Mr. Ingersoll spoke these words: “Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud—and the only murmur is the echo of our wailing cry.” Finally, the agnostic Bertrand Russell declared: “The life of man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long.”

Now compare those sentiments with that of the faithful child of God. “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only but also to all them that have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). “I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12b). One missionary to Burma expressed his happy anticipation when he wrote: “I am not tired of my work, neither am I tired of the world; yet when Christ calls me home I shall go with the gladness of a school boy bounding away from school.”

To the Christian, death is merely a casting off of the mortal for immortality, and the gateway that leads the saint into the presence of God.  James tells us that “the body apart from the spirit is dead” (James 2:26), thereby giving us an inspired definition of an otherwise undefinable event at the end of our earthly existence. And the Hebrew writer reminds us that “it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh the judgment” (9:27).  Indeed, “Death, that mysterious door of departure from this life for every earthly creature, is as insoluble, inscrutable and inexplicable as its concomitant, life.  From the occasion of its first tragic occurrence in the race until now, though the wisest, greatest and most thoughtful of men have philosophized, conjectured and speculated concerning it, we know but little regarding an experience ultimately characteristic of all men. The worldly wise of all ages, the scholars, scientists, and philosophers of this, the most glorious age of achievement, stand in awe before it and confess defeat in fathoming it. It remains that the best, indeed, the only satisfactory definition of death is to be found in an affirmation of James, the design of which was not really to advance a definition but rather to describe the condition which follows it” (Guy N. Woods, Gospel Advocate, April 18, 1985, page 226).

I find it interesting, therefore, that the Psalmist speaks of the “valley of the shadow of death.” Let’s look a little closer.

Having expressed his great confidence in the ability of God to provide and to guide, the Psalmist now expresses courage and hope, even in the face of danger and despair. There is a cause and effect under consideration.  The absence of the fear of evil is due to the assurance that comes from following God. It may be that God’s guidance will take us through the valley of the shadow of death. The confidence and assurance that God will not betray us will give us courage so that we fear no evil when following him. Even if it leads us into situations that threaten our life. The notable Albert Barnes wrote, “The idea is that of death casting his gloomy shadow over that valley...Hence the word is applicable to any path of gloom or sadness; any scene of trouble or sorrow; any dark and dangerous way.  All along those paths God will be a safe and certain guide” (Volume I, page 211).   

Now look at the remarkable serenity of the saint that finds himself staring danger in the face. Does he run? No, he walks. He does not quicken his pace when he comes to the end of his earthly sojourn. He is still calm; he is still under the control of his God. Interestingly, it is not IN the valley, but THROUGH it! We are not overwhelmed by the last enemy, but we pass through the experience and emerge on the other side safely on eternity’s shore. Yes, “the storm breaks on the mountain, but the valley is the place of quietude, and thus...often the last days of the Christian are the most peaceful in his whole career; the mountain is bleak and bare, but the valley is rich with golden sheaves, and many a saint has reaped more joy and knowledge when he came to die than he ever knew while he lived” (Spurgeon, page 355). 

And notice, if you will, that it is not the valley of death, but rather “the valley of the shadow of death.” Men do not fear the shadows; nor does the Christian fear that which has no more power than a shadow that is cast by turning. Death has been defeated. To the child of God it can only cast its long shadow on the road to heaven, but it cannot block the gate that will usher us into eternity’s bliss. Consequently, the child of God can boldly claim, “I will fear no evil.”  

Lest we conclude that all such peace is an exercise in self-will and human determination, please take a close look at the Psalmist’s closing words in this verse. “For thou art with me.” God will go with us down the long valley toward eternity, but only if we are willing to go with him through life itself. I have often contemplated the meaning and significance of these words, especially as the moment of death approaches for the child of God. When facing death we have our loved ones and friends to comfort us. But they can only go so far as we walk through that valley. Into the realms of the eternal they cannot enter. The psalmist was confident that when it came his time to walk through that valley, God would be with him. We have been told by our Savior that we will not “see death.”  When that time comes to cross the bar into the eternal realms beyond, I am convinced that Jesus will take our hand and guide us through the valley unscathed by death’s evil influence. The hope that we have as God’s children is a source of comfort that is available to none other. The uncertainty of what lies beyond, and the ultimate journey through that valley on the part of the unbeliever is bleak indeed. That fear and uncertainty is reflected in the statements they make with regard to death and the hereafter. But the believer can affirm as did Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” 



Regard Not Your Stuff

by Tom Wacaster

It is not uncommon for a single verse to contain a little nugget of truth that astounds and challenges even the most experienced Bible students.   Today while reading again the wonderful story of Joseph, I came across the statement Joseph made to his brethren:  “regard not your stuff.” 

“Stuff” is our English word for material possessions.  All of us have our “stuff,” much of  which sits on the shelve collecting dust, or is stored away in some box in the attic where spiders and moths destroy their once-intrinsic value.  Historians might look back on this generation and declare it the age of the “storage shed.”   The past 50 years has seen a dramatic increase in the personal possessions of the average American.  In the 1950’s, the average family lived in a 900 square foot house, with a single bathroom, two bedrooms, a small but adequate living area for family entertainment, and a single car garage for the one and only automobile that the family owned.  With each passing decade the standard of living has increased.  Today the average house contains 2500 square feet of living space, four bedrooms, two and  half baths, a den (or family room), a living room, and a two car garage.  In the 1950’s those seldom used items were stored in the attic.  In the 1970’s our possessions increased and along with it the need for more space. So we backed our cars out of the garage and filled up the garage with our “stuff.”   The 1980’s introduced us to the “storage shed” at some remote area - and for a modest monthly fee we could store all that unwanted “stuff” that cluttered up our attics and garages.  Now we have attics, garages, and storage sheds full of “stuff.” 

I am sure that Jacob had his “stuff.”  After all, with so many wives, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, he simply could not avoid collecting “stuff.”  Now Joseph invites his father to leave that “stuff” behind and come to Egypt.   In faith this great patriarch saw in life’s disappointments and setbacks the hand of God moving to save the lives of his father and brothers.   As he revealed himself to his brethren he invites them to go get their father and bring him and his family to Egypt.  “Take ye wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come.  Also regard not your stuff; for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours” (Gen. 45:20). 

God abides in His heavenly home.  He wants us to join Him.  He invites, pleads, and has sent the “wagons” (His Son, the gospel, etc.) to safely carry us to that heavenly home.  But in order to receive that wonderful inheritance, we must maintain a healthy attitude toward our “stuff.”  Our Lord encourages us with these words: 

“Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment?  Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they?  And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:  yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?  Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. 6:25-34).

Jesus’ message to us is the same as that of Joseph to his brethren: “regard not your stuff.”  Some years ago I came across the following rather humorous but pointed anecdote:


“Stuff”

In spring I start stirring in my stuff.  There is closet stuff, drawer stuff, attic stuff, and basement stuff.  I separate the good stuff from the bad stuff, then I stuff the good stuff back in drawers and closets, attic and basement; then I stuff the bad stuff anywhere the stuff is not too crowded until I decide if I will need the bad stuff.  When the Lord calls me home, my children will both want the good stuff; but the bad stuff, stuffed wherever there is room among the other stuff, will be stuffed in bags and taken to the dump where all the other people’s stuff has been taken.

Whenever we have company, they always bring bags and bags of stuff and we have to move all of our stuff that’s stuffed in every nook and cranny that’s full of our stuff so they can hang and stuff their stuff. 

When I visit my son he always moves his stuff so I will have room for my stuff.  My daughter-in-law always clears a drawer of her stuff so I have room for my stuff.   Their stuff and my stuff - it would be so much easier to use their stuff and leave my stuff at home with the rest of my stuff. 

This spring I had an extra closet built so I could have a place for all the stuff too good to throw away and too bad to keep with my good stuff.  You may not have this problem, but I seem to spend a lot of time with stuff - food stuff, cleaning stuff, medicine stuff, clothes stuff, and outside stuff.  Whatever would life be like if we didn’t have all the stuff?

Whenever we travel we bring all our good stuff.  We mix all the stuff we brought together, then when we get ready to go home, all our stuff is scattered and mixed with everyone else’s stuff, and someone has lost some stuff. Finally, all our stuff is stuffed in the car, and we go home and unload all our stuff and start washing and arranging all the stuff with the stuff we left at home.

Now, there is all that stuff we use to make us smell better than we do.  There is the stuff to make our hair look good, the stuff to cover a bad complexion, stuff to make us look younger and stuff to make us look healthier, stuff to hold us in and stuff to fill us out.  There is stuff to read, stuff to play with, stuff to entertain us, and stuff to eat - we stuff ourselves with all the good food stuff.

Well, our lives are filled with stuff - good stuff,  bad stuff, little stuff, big stuff, useful stuff, junky stuff and everyone’s stuff.  Now, whenever we leave all our stuff and go to heaven, whatever happens to our stuff won’t matter.  We will have all the good stuff God has prepared for us.