A Light Not Overcome (Beatitudes, Part 14)

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When the news broke on Sunday night that twenty-one more Christians had been executed for their faith, I sat in silence. I was speechless in the jarring juxtaposition between a game of charades with my family and that image of men kneeling in the sand, a moment away from death.

Families lost their husbands, fathers, and sons because they were men of the cross.

And it isn’t easy to face it. It isn’t easy to see this pain and this escalating persecution…it isn’t easy to bear witness to the unmerciful hands of hatred and evil. It’s one thing to know that, theoretically, there is persecution in the world. It’s quite another thing to see it before our eyes right after we tuck our kids into their beds.

The thing is, though – this isn’t new. These are not isolated events. Organizations like Open Doors track and minister to oppressed and persecuted Christians around the world – they estimate that 322 Christians are killed because of their faith each month. But unless we make an effort to know what is happening around the world, it is too easy for most of us to simply not think about it. We aren’t directly affected and we feel helpless to make a difference…and, maybe, we don’t quite understand why God allows it all to happen. So it is easier to stay focused on our own lives.

But, friends, I think that this is the time to shake ourselves awake, to throw off complacency. We must see this unfolding season with eyes open, praying for wisdom and understanding.

Because I think that these are the moments when we decide – do we believe Jesus? Do we believe Him when it isn’t just theology and Sunday morning church, when it becomes clear that the cost of following Him actually changes our lives? When it comes to seeing the reality of what it can look like to follow Him even unto death, will we choose to trust Him?

This is when we must know in Whom we have believed so that our actions are a result of our faith in Him. This is when we must trust that the Light who was not overcome by the darkness shines still — undeterred, unfaltering, undefeated.

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Jesus spoke words of warning and promise, preparing us for days just like these.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12)

Later, in Matthew 24, Jesus teaches the disciples what the end of the age will bring. He tells them plainly: Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. (Matt. 24:9)

And this is a crossroads for many of us – because He goes on and says At this time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

We cannot brush over these verses, thinking that they will never apply to us or to our families. When we read the Word of God, it is clear that this world will be shaken before the coming of God’s Kingdom. We are in a battle, daily, against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil”…and as the day of the Lord’s return draws nearer, we cannot know what hardships we might be asked to endure.

In John 15 and 16, Jesus speaks again of persecution so that we will not be caught off guard: If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me….But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.

Although Jesus was speaking to the disciples – and His words came to pass, for many of those followers were put to death for carrying His name – I believe the principle applies to us, too. If the day comes when our choice to serve Him carries consequences of persecution, we will bear witness – through the power of the Helper, the Holy Spirit – to His name and to His love. And no matter what happens to these bodies of ours, our souls are safe in His hands.

Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:27-31)

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Even if the people we know by name – our families, our friends – never go through this kind of persecution for their faith in Christ, our brothers and sisters around this globe are facing danger every single day.

We are one. Jesus prayed for our unity. Our love for each other – love that should cross borders, languages, and cultures – points directly to Him, for we are His body.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many…But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. -1 Cor. 12

Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also. – Hebrews 13:3

We feel helpless, like we can’t help those who are hurting – have we forgotten that if we have even a little faith in our God, He is mighty to move mountains? Are we deceived, somehow, into believing that our prayers for each other can’t make a difference? Do we forget that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective? We cannot physically reach those around the world, but we can boldly come before the throne of grace – we can reach God and God can reach the captives and the broken-hearted. Only He knows the plan and purpose for each life on this earth – and although we may not understand why some will face persecution, even to the point of death, we can pray for His peace and His strength for our brothers and sisters in all these things. We can pray that they will have the assurance that He is with them, always. Matthew 18:19-20 says this – Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.

These are the words of our Savior and I have to ask myself and I have to ask you…do we believe Him? Do we trust Him enough to turn our belief into movement, into prayer, into interceding for each other?

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And our calling does not end with praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ. I tripped over Matthew 5:44 as I was reading through these passages, because Jesus was telling me to do the exact opposite of what I was feeling at the time. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

It is one thing to know, theoretically, that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It is quite another to see those men, faces hidden, swords in hand – and to pray for them even while they plan and plot more evil against innocent men, women, and children.

I stalled on this verse…and I remembered how Jesus was hanging on a cross, body beaten and battered – and how He prayed for the men who sent the whip across His back, the nails through His hands and feet. He prayed that they would be forgiven.

And He was there, to begin with, so that I could be forgiven.

I was reminded that the lives of those who hold the weapons, those lives being controlled by evil – they are being completely destroyed by sin. Their souls are in darkness, enslaved to the enemy.

And didn’t Jesus come for every single person? Do we really believe that His mercy is for any who will call upon His name?

It is not impossible for a man, even one who has persecuted and killed in the name of his religion, to find redemption in Christ Jesus.

If it were, we would not have these words of Paul in 1 Timothy….This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

One encounter with Jesus changed Paul – and I believe that Jesus can still encounter men and women, wherever they are, and His grace can transform them. Jeremiah tells us this message – “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”

Will we let the love He has shown to us…the forgiveness He has given to us…transform our hearts and teach us the ways of grace until we can pray that all- even those who hurt and despise us –will come to the knowledge of salvation? (1 Tim. 2:4)

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Why do we choose to follow Him, even when we know that first we lay down our will…and may be asked to lay down our very lives? Why do we choose to trust Him, when He may lead us through the valley of the shadow of death?

Although I could give you scriptures to explain it – I think I’ll start with my own life, my own reasons.

There was a time when I was afraid (of nearly everything) and convinced that I was worthless. I believed I was a failure, my sins and their consequences the theme of my life. I had no hope and no joy.

But Jesus reached out to me. And His love – His grace and His gentleness – transformed my heart and gave me new life. He set me free from fear that crippled me, from condemnation that overwhelmed me – His mercy called me beloved and chosen. On a day-to-day basis, He is my strength and my peace. I have seen miracles in big and small things…I have seen glimpses of His glory and I am left changed. I will follow where He leads because I know that He is with me.

He became the Man of the Cross for me. I don’t carry around my shame, my sin, my guilt, my broken pieces – because on Calvary, He bore them all for me. He gave up His life, willingly, so that I can have life in abundance.

So even if the promise was only His presence here in this lifetime…friends, it is enough.

But there is more in store for us, because we are not made only for this time and place. Like Paul said – to live is Christ, but to die is gain…for when we depart from this life, we will be with Christ– face to face, forever. His death may have looked like a battle lost, like light overcome – but He rose in power, the authority over hell, death, and the grave in His hands – and He went to prepare a place for me, for you, for all who will believe in Him. The Light was never overcome and never will be.

In all of this – in the uncertainty, in the gathering storm clouds, in the darkness – Jesus is our hope! Our promises in Him are the Light we live by, the anchor for our souls. We cannot forget the words of Matthew 5:10 – Blessed are those who are persecuted….rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.

The twenty-one young men who lived out their last days refusing to deny their faith in Christ? Their eyes closed to this earth, but they opened to see the Savior and I know that they heard the Father say – well done, my good and faithful servants. Enter in to the joy of your Lord. To the world’s eyes, it may look like they were defeated on that beach – but, in reality, they won their battle there — they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Rev.12:11) Those men of the cross will be given the crown of life (Rev.2:10)…and The Lamb will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev. 7:17)

There, in His presence, they will wait for the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. They will wait for the day when sin, death, and satan are destroyed and evil is no more. They will wait for the day when all things are made new, the curse broken, and darkness is a thing of the past. For there, in that unshakable kingdom whose architect and builder is God (Heb.11:10), there is no night. Our weeping will forever pass, and this Morning will bring only joy.

And as we, too, wait for that day –may we live by faith and not by sight…our actions speaking our trust in His Word and in His promises. May we make up our minds now to follow Him, finding that He is ever-worthy of our trust. May we learn to pray for the body of Christ and those who come against it…may our hearts be softened so that we mourn with those who mourn, willing to step into what is uncomfortable so that we can love like He does. No, it isn’t easy – but it is our calling and He is our help, our comfort through every step we take to follow Him.

May we have a deep, unshakeable confidence in Him – the One who already has our victory firmly in hand, the One who has already overcome the world and makes us more than conquerors with Him. Let’s believe Him. May we live in expectancy of His return, working for His glory and looking for His unshakeable Kingdom, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. (Rom. 13:11-12)  May we understand that we do not have to endure and stand through our own power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. May we live in freedom, unashamed and unafraid to share the gospel of Jesus Christ – no matter the cost. May we live boldly in His love, starting now. May we be people of the cross.

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For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.

 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.  All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. -2 Cor. 4:6-18

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For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.- from Romans 8

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A Prayer for Today

“If we want to transform life again, if Advent is truly to come again – the Advent of home and of hearts, the Advent of the people and the nations, a coming of the Lord in all this – then the great Advent question for us is whether we come out of these convulsions with this determination: yes, arise! It is time to awaken from sleep. It is time for a waking up to begin somewhere. It is time to put things back where God the Lord put them…the Advent message comes out of an encounter with the absolute, the final, the gospel. It is thus the message that shakes…” -Alfred Delp

And when we are wide awake, when we are shaken…may we live in His power and in His footsteps. Only in this way will we shine into darkness with His hope and love…Lord, awaken Your love and Your wisdom in us. Change us so that we see how You see, live how You lead, love how You love.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

-St. Francis of Asissi

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again…

Carry the light-giving Message into the night…-John 3:16, Phil. 2 (MSG)

Prayer for the Peacemakers

After this week of looking a little more closely at our calling to become peacemakers, I want to make sure we remember a few things…

In the hard things, in the impossible-in-ourselves things…it isn’t about what we can do. It’s about Christ alive in us – the One who makes all things possible…But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

In our calling to be holy, to be like Jesus – His commands are not meant to weigh us down, but to bring freedom and life. In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:3)

This is the wonder-full invitation from Jesus in Matthew 11 (MSG): “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

And when we are not like Him in this world, when we stumble…when we fail to ‘keep company’ with Him – we do not find condemnation but forgiveness and fresh strength to follow Him. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

So we keep moving forward, our eyes on Him: “…but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesuslet us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Phil. 3:13-14 & Hebrews 12:2)

Lord, may we remember that our lives are transformed by Your power and Your love. May we remember that our can’t-do-it leaves room for You to make it possible and to have the glory for it…make us a testimony to You, living epistles written by Your Spirit. Help us to give up our will, our life– and find Your life (overflowing and abundant) in us. Please give us the desire to be like You, Jesus, the wisdom to walk in Your words – and the courage to love like You do. Amen

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. –Romans 15:13

Called to Peace (Part 4 of 4)

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When it comes to our relationships with a world that does not acknowledge Jesus as Lord, I fear that we do not always resemble our Savior.

Sometimes we, as a Christian body, are offended by the ways of the world around us.

But does it go deeper than that? Yes, we should be dismayed by the sin and its consequences – but should our eyes be more on the sin than the souls captured in it? Are our hearts truly grieving for our culture? Do we see the people instead of the problems?

We can be indignant and raise our voices and boycott and tweet in all caps – but what are our words really saying to the souls in this world who are still bound by sin? When we want to declare our rights to express our faith – shout from the rooftops what is wrong with this world and debate with anyone who disagrees – are we doing it to glorify God?

I fear that we sometimes justify anger, self-righteousness, and fear as ‘righteous indignation’. When we feel these things, it is probably the time to stop and pray – because our Father is the Holy One, the only Judge, who knows the intentions of our hearts. And He is the one who can help us to be angry without sin. He is the one who can transform our frustrations over injustice and our anger with the destruction of sin into words, actions, and prayers that bring light into the dark places.

I think that – sometimes – we forget that the very people we are condemning and pushing away with our ‘righteous’ indignation are the very people who need us …because they need Him. They need His light to shine through us!

And if we are too busy being appalled by the sinful nature (that used to control us!) to love others in spite of the way they might behave or treat us…then we have forgotten that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Paul says this in Ephesians 2: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.

The words of Jesus remind me, too, that we cannot expect holiness from those not yet redeemed by the work of Jesus: It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Mark 2:17)

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Why do we expect the world to approve of and change for our faith? Weren’t we, too, once far from Him? Simply -we cannot expect righteousness and an understanding from those who are still alienated from God.

We spend a lot of time defending our position and theology to a world that does not yet have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Is engaging in this kind of debate wise? Paul advises this to his friend, Titus – But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless!

James gave us this wisdom: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires…Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless…With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Instead of trying to convince with facts and persuade with logic – shouldn’t we be imploring on God’s behalf – be reconciled to God? The Holy Spirit was sent into this world to convict of sin and the Father draws people to Jesus. We cannot convince anyone of their need of salvation in our own power – there is a supernatural beckoning…there is a Good Shepherd going out from His flock to find the lost sheep. What we can do, through His power, is this: live with hearts as letters from Christ, lives written on by the Holy Spirit. We can live holy lives that are different from the world around us – peaceful, generous, loving one another – and won’t our good works shine before men, so that our Father in heaven is glorified? (from Matthew 5)

Christ did not come into this world to condemn the lost (John 3:17) – and neither should we.

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But the end of John 3:17 is this – He came so that the world might be saved through Him.

If we are to be like Him, we will not condemn sinners – but we will not condone sin.

Jesus offered Himself so the sin could be forgiven. He offered Himself so that a heart could be set free. He offered Himself so that the people He loved could be changed by the power of His blood and the Holy Spirit.

Following His example, I believe that peacemaking means offering ourselves in intercession. I believe it means understanding that the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers. I believe it is living a life without grumbling so that ‘we will shine like stars in the sky as we hold firmly to the word of life’. I believe it is showing through our actions that we love – wholly, fully, giving all!- because He first loved us in exactly that way. I believe it means understanding that God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…and we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.

Peter tells us that we should always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. When we speak out for what is right and true, our voices should sound like His. Our reactions and our words should sound like His. We should be the huios-kind-of-children so that eyes on us will mean seeing a representation, a reflection, of the Father.

I’ve said this before but I think it’s a good time to remember it again – it is not love to ignore sin. It is not love to stay silent when we know that sin leads to destruction. If someone is captive and in darkness, we speak this truth in love – there is a Prince of Peace who is Hope, Freedom, and Salvation. We live as His ambassadors, His witnesses – and then we trust the Holy Spirit to draw that person to Christ. We trust Jesus to do the redemption work only He can accomplish.

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Don’t you love the times in the Gospels when Jesus takes everyone by surprise? I love it when Jesus calls Zacchaeus down from that tree and invites Himself over to dinner. I love it when He re-directs the attention from the woman caught in adultery to those who did the ‘catching’. I love it when He tells the story of a father running toward his prodigal son, arms open to welcome him home.

Because that was me – I have been the one daring only a peek at Him through my shame, I have been the one caught in doing wrong, I have been the ungrateful, self-serving child.

And He took me by surprise with His love. His compassion changed me. His grace was the astounding, beautiful miracle that brought me into His presence. I was welcomed and redeemed.

Jesus told us this: Freely you have received; freely give.

We should be compelled to give because of Christ’s love…because He died for us…and because He died for all. (from 2 Cor. 5)

What would happen if the Body of Christ, in the unity we’ve been talking about, began to pray on behalf of those in need of redemption? What if we began to freely give like we have been given? What if we began to respond to hatred with love, to insults with grace, and with mercy in the aftermath of mistakes? What if we began to be known as a people of generosity, a church of compassion, a Body who will comfort the hurting and provide for those in need?

What if, in a world full of rage – full of noise – full of voices demanding their own way – we could become a people of peacemakers, letting His still and small voice speak through us?

Maybe choosing to end hostilities, choosing meekness, choosing kindness – maybe it doesn’t seem like it would work. Maybe it seems illogical in the face of a loud, frustrated world.

But it’s what He’s called us to choose.

Can’t we trust Him to do His work in this world when we follow Him in obedience?

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What if we humble ourselves and our ‘rights’ are brushed aside? What if we are taken advantage of and mistreated?

It is how we handle those wrongs that will speak volumes. If we are like Jesus, what is the response? He gives us clear direction in Matthew 5:

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.

I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

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When it comes to matters of standing firm for the Gospel’s sake – then we must stand in His love, unafraid to bear His name – but remembering what His name means and everything He taught us. I believe we must prayerfully follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in these circumstances – we must be, as Jesus said, wise as serpents and harmless as doves. When it comes to sin and holiness, truth and lies, life and death – we are compelled to hold our ground and contend for the faith…because we love others and want them to see Christ in us! We must still be peacemakers – even while we cannot agree with the world….even when we are hated or persecuted for His name’s sake.

We must remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the spiritual realms…so For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (Eph. 6:12, 2 Cor. 10:3-4)

Paul talks about the armor we must wear to fight this battle – is it any surprise that our feet…feet that must go out into the world to make disciples – should go wearing the readiness that comes from this gospel of peace?

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving…peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. –Matthew 3:17-18

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He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Eph.2:17-18)

Jesus loved the tax collectors and the sinners. He loved the thieves and the liars, the prostitutes and the self-absorbed. He loved the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the prisoners and the slaves. He loved the Jews and the Gentiles, the Pharisees and the fishermen. He loved me. He loved you.

He invited us to His table, He healed our sicknesses, He touched our eyes and gave us sight. He fed the hungry.

He loved us and gave Himself for us, so that we could find ourselves forgiven children of the Father.

May we examine our lives and ask for His guidance, because we know the One who bore the punishment to bring the peace this world desperately needs.

May we be taught by His Spirit to become like Him, to become peacemakers in His name.

 

Called to Peace (Part 3 of 4)

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And here is a question I have asked God, because we are a people not yet made perfect. What do we do when the bonds of peace are strained, overlooked, or just plain broken?

It is no secret – our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ can hurt us. While we are doing what is right, someone may wrong us. They may betray our trust. They may reject us.

There’s no way to soften or avoid the truth: this hurts.

I’ve been involved with church-ministry for nearly my entire life. I have seen absolutely beautiful examples of the Body of Christ loving one another…I have witnessed selflessness, generosity, and grace. I know the sweetness of peace between brothers and sisters in Christ. But I also know the grief of conflict and division. I’ve heard unprovoked words of bitterness. I’ve seen the heart-break that follows. And so there have been times when I have found myself frustrated with the family of God, my heart aching over the way we can treat each other so callously. For a long time, my instinct was to run from planting roots into a church, to not give of myself because it felt too risky. My preference was to keep hidden, un-invested in something that was not a guarantee.

But the Church – with all of its mistakes, regrets, and stumbles – is still the Body of Christ.

Jesus loves us – His people – despite the pain He suffered for our sakes. He loved us before we loved Him in return. He is our Good Shepherd, who told Peter that the response to loving Him was to take care of His sheep.

We – the Church – are His.  God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. (from Eph. 1)

How can we hold ourselves back from the church…when He held nothing back to make us a part of it?

Yes, there is healing, even for hurt inflicted within the church – because His body already bore the stripes to bring it.

But we have to open our hearts – we have to let His Holy Spirit breathe new life into our sealed-off corners and turn the lights back on in the places we have kept darkened. We cannot find healing by permanently staying away from the Body of Christ. Paul talks about how we are all needed – everyone a part, each piece of the body important to the whole.

This, I think, is where we – those who have been hurt and are, perhaps, withdrawn or holding back from the Body of Christ – must take a step of faith to become peacemakers.

We must go back to those verses in Philippians and remember that Jesus humbled Himself totally. He took on suffering. He took on the treatment that He did not deserve. To make peace between our hearts and the Father, He took the first steps that we couldn’t take. He did not cause the hostilities between us, but He ended them with His love.

If we want to be obedient to His Word, we cannot hide forever when we have been wounded. If we do not allow God to bring us through the pain in His strength and compassion, then we may get stuck in fear and bitterness. We may begin as those who have been wronged and end up holding onto what is wrong in ourselves – the refusal to follow His command: A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

To love one another as He has loved us, we have to give without expectation of receiving anything in return. We have to take a first step. We have to forgive – even if we never get an apology, even if we have been unequivocally wronged. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:32)

And Jesus said this in Matthew 6– For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Peter later asked Jesus how many times we should forgive those who sin against us – and Jesus said seventy times seven.

In other words, always.

I know it isn’t easy – being a peacemaker is risky! Preferring others, humbling ourselves, forgiving- it all leaves us vulnerable…and, chances are, we will face more pain. People will fail us, just as we may sometimes fail them.

Becoming a peacemaker – resembling Christ and bringing glory to our Father – means loving anyway.

And here is a crucial lesson I had to learn – as we serve and love each other, we put our full confidence and hope only in Christ.

We have to learn the wisdom of giving of ourselves to God’s people while putting our total trust only in God Himself.

If you have been in this place – if you are still feeling the effects of being hurt by someone else in the church – or if you feel this way in the future, I want you to know that Jesus will be with you every step of the way as you follow Him in giving of yourself again to others. We don’t do it without His help. Wasn’t Jesus Himself betrayed? He understands our grief – He does not turn away from our pain- For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet He did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15) He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Spend time with Him, let His love be your strong tower…wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart…and don’t be surprised if He takes your struggle and – because He is the God who can do beyond what we can imagine, the God who brings light from darkness, the God who brings life from death! – transforms what was meant to do you harm into something He means for your good.

He can even use it for someone else’s good. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)

No matter what man may do, He never fails us. He is faithful – and He is our portion, the promised peace of our hearts that will pass understanding and circumstance.

As His children – we can be fearless in reconciliation, first to forgive, proactive in peace. We must trust Him and we must let our actions follow our faith.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us…God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus. –1 John 4:16-17

Called to Peace (Part 2 of 4)

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Unity is in the very nature of the Trinity. God the Father, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit are one.

And unity is what Jesus prayed for us: I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave me, that they may be one as We are one — I in them and You in Me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me. (from John 17)

It is sobering, the witness our unity – our peace between us – bears. And it is revealing, too, isn’t it?

Because if it is our unity that will show the world that they are loved by God, wouldn’t a primary course of action for the enemy be to sow discord…to divide…to pull us far from His purpose?

What a beacon of hope – the salt, the light – we would color this world with if we were one, the temple of God, a dwelling place of the Spirit, with Christ as our Cornerstone!

And, yes, it may seem that this is far from our current reality – the children of God all around this world, coming together as one body. But what is impossible with man is possible with God.

You and I – we have the choice every single day whether or not we will be makers of peace, known as the huios of God. Perhaps it feels like a small thing, our own personal choices, in the face of the view our world has of the church as a cold-hearted, divided, bickering body…but, friends, as an old song so aptly says – “little is much when God is in it”.

Jesus said that if even two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in My name, there I am with them. (Matthew 18:19-20)

Knowing this promise, understanding that unity (even between just two of us!) makes a difference in this world because of His power and grace – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace! (Col. 3:15)

We are to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6)

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But does this mean that we should keep silent when there are problems in our church? If someone is struggling with sin, should we turn away without speaking up in order to avoid confrontation?

No, it does not. Maybe we confuse peacemaking with concession. Maybe we mistake passivity for peace. A false peace – one maintained by allowing the Church to overlook sin – can only result in a church that is far from God’s heart and purpose. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

Jesus did not condone sin; if sin was harmless to us and easily pushed aside, His body would not have been crushed for our iniquities. We know that the wages of sin are death. We know that it leads to destruction. So love does not stay silent when someone is in disobedience to God’s Word – James 5:20 says that whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and John urges us to pray for a brother or sister who is committing sin. (1 John 5:16)

But may we do so with the awe-filled knowledge that we, too, fall short of the glory of God and that there is one Holy God who is able to judge a man’s heart. As we encourage one another to do what is right, we must not forget that judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

In Matthew 18, Jesus gives us a specific way to handle this – If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (We’ll talk more about this last bit later this week).

Notice that this proper order is to give the person a chance to see their error – notice that the point is to reconcile the brother or sister and not to condemn them. If we love one another as Christ loves us, won’t we long for our family of God to live in freedom? Won’t our hearts be broken to see someone choose to pick up the chains of sin again? Won’t we intercede for their hearts – talking to God on their behalf instead of to each other about their mistake? Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (from 1 Cor. 13)

Jesus did not humiliate Peter after his denial. The father did not shame the prodigal son. When Thomas doubted, Jesus stretched out His hands and helped him to believe.

Paul urged the Corinthian church to forgive and comfort an offender – to reaffirm their love for him so that he would not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. We forgive, Paul says, so that satan might not outwit us, for we are not unaware of his schemes. (2 Cor.2)

May we resist the enemy’s influence- his division, his discordant voice – through the power of the Holy Spirit and cause him to flee from our Church.

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Differences in opinion will rise in the church – but when it is not a matter of sin, when the issue is not a matter of defending the truth of the Gospel – then should we hold so tightly to our causes?

James asks us this – What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?

I believe we have to take a look at our surface-issue disagreements and know what they will cost us – our witness of unity, our agreement in prayer, our obedience. Honor one another above yourselves, Paul says in Romans 12, and we have to know that – at times- this will be difficult. Sometimes we will so fully feel that we are right and ‘they’ are wrong – but holding onto anger against our brothers and sisters is wrong.

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5)

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God did not create us to be identical – He does not expect us to always agree on everything, but He does expect us to live without making our disagreements louder than our love. Maybe this is why Romans 12:16 says – Live in harmony with one another.

It can be easy to wonder, sometimes, why He chose to make us so different from one another – and then I think of the definition of harmony. It’s “two or more different tones that produce an impression of agreeableness”.

It takes differences – purposefully played in accord, surrendered to the design of the composer – to create the unparalleled sweetness of a harmony.

That’s the beautiful wonder of a Body brought together and held together in the bonds of peace – it is a miracle of grace and a witness to the power of God’s love.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14 ESV

Called to Peace (part 1 of 4)

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Prince of Peace, Isaiah called Him, when he foretold the Savior’s birth. And, to us, that Prince-of-Peace-Savior says this in Matthew 5:9 – ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.’

Peace.

It’s defined as a state of tranquility and quiet, freedom from disturbance, a state of agreement. Peace is freedom from oppressive thoughts or emotions. It is harmony in relationships. It is the end of hostilities.

A simple, one-syllable word can mean so much, can be so needed.

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When sin governed us, making our minds hostile to God, we were unable to please Him (Romans 8:7-8) and we were powerless to set ourselves free. So the Father acted, reached out to us and reconciled us to Himself through the Son. In Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph.2:13).

Yes, it was Jesus who made peace –for us- through His blood, shed on the cross (Col.1:20). The work of the devil was destroyed…the power of sin to hold us captive was broken. Because of His sacrifice, we are given a mind governed by the Spirit of God, which is life and peace. (Rom. 8:6)

It’s a peace only possible because of love.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! (1 John 3:1)

The Greek word for children here is teknon, which means offspring. We, who have forgiveness of our sins because of His grace and love, have become adopted children – sons and daughters – of the Father.

But when Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”, the word children is not just a biological reference. The original Greek in this verse – huios – identifies someone who displays the character of the parent. Strong’s Concordance says this to define huios: “in character and life resemble God, those who are governed by the Spirit of God”.

The difference between teknon and huios, simply, is the difference between knowing that I am my father’s daughter because his DNA resides in this physical body and knowing that I am my father’s daughter because of my love for music, my cheese-ball sense of humor, my need for list-making. I not only bear witness to him because of the basic fact of biology but because I bear some of his characteristics. I carry on some of his passions. I say things to my children because he said them to me. I am like him.

So when it comes to being known as our Father’s children – as being like Him – must have the mindset of Jesus, for He was the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15).

In all of our relationships – whether personal, within the body of Christ, or with those who don’t know Him – if we want to “in character and life resemble God”, we must live as Christ told us to live (Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did. – 1 John 2:6) and we must love as He loved (Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.-1 John 4:7).

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We are so used to hearing about loving others as Christ loved us. It is easy to throw it into our conversations, a calling we know by heart.

But do we sometimes forget what it actually meant for Christ to love us enough to be our Prince of Peace?

This is how He loves us: humbly, wholly, holding nothing back – not even His life. Christ – who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Phil.2:6-8)

Years later, John says it plain after he witnesses his friend and teacher’s life…and His crucifixion – This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.

This peace did not come easy. It came with whips and mockery, suffering and loneliness, rejection and pain. It came with submission and sorrow, thirst and self-denial. It came through His death.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hid their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem. Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering…He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. –Isaiah 53:3-5

This is peacemaking that came with the highest cost.

And yet we find it so discouraging when we find that peace doesn’t come easy with the people in our lives, with brothers and sisters in Christ, with the world. We are surprised by the price it might require of us. Maybe, sometimes, we can even forget that we are supposed to pursue peace.

Do we forget how much it was worth to Him?

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This week, please come back to read more about the ways of peace. If you’d like to read the prior posts about Matthew 5, please look at the top menu bar and find the tab that says ‘Beatitudes Series’. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these words of Jesus that are to guide our lives!