Together We Follow (Genesis 14:1-16)

When we enter today’s passage of Scripture, we find ourselves in the middle of a war in Canaan. There’s rebellion, kings joining forces against other kings, conquests, and invasions.

For Abram, this war brings devastating news: his nephew, Lot, has been taken as a prisoner by the conquering army.

Abram doesn’t seem to hesitate. He mobilizes 318 men and sets off to rescue his family. They pursue and attack King Kedorlaomer’s men, causing this army – this army that has just conquered and plundered the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah – to flee.

To me, this is an amazing story. We’re not told how many men make up the army that Abram is chasing, but we know that this is a trained and victorious group of men. Abram does not let that stop him…it seems so improbable that Abram’s small troop would be able to conquer an actual army – and, yet, he leads them to recover all that had been taken.

Abram is learning — through his faith-fueled action — that there’s nothing too hard for God. He’s learning that impossible odds are overcome when God is in control of the situation. He’s seeing that God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne. (Psalm 47:8) 

It’s a truth he will need, again and again, as he continues his journey.

Isn’t it a truth we all need?

When chaos is all around, when the bad news comes, when it seems that we are powerless – our God is still King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God. (1 Tim. 1:17) Nothing can change who He is. Nothing can change His purpose. His love and His dominion endure through all generations.

When things are difficult, when we have no answers -we cry out to Him because He is the only one who can make a way. This is when – like Abram – we let our faith fuel our actions and we follow Him, even in improbable odds and through impossible obstacles.

I know what it is to worry about all of the things that will be. Right now it seems like we are looking at our nation and seeing a collapse of what is good, a wreckage of discord and hate. In some ways, no matter how the election turns out, it feels like defeat. This could cause us to give in to frustration and fear, throwing our hands up because the wrong-called-right and right-called-wrong is reigning in our land. The world seems scarier and scarier to me. Sometimes I want to take my kids, my family, and hide away from it all.

Abram could’ve thrown up his hands, letting Lot go. He could have said that it was too late. He could’ve feared the risk of losing what was his. He could have said the kings were too strong, the damage was done, it was all too far gone.

But he didn’t do that. He went after his family, believing that the power of God would enable him to take a stand against the enemy.

I have been reminding myself of this over and over again throughout this entire year: For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

In a time that is difficult and confusion seems to carry the day, I’m watching as even members of the body of Christ turn against each other and followers of Christ turn against people in the world who don’t agree with them — people that are loved by God, people that are our neighbors, people we are supposed to love as we love ourselves.

And I’m wondering – are our eyes on the wrong things here? Are we looking so much at the events of this present world that we are forgetting Who we belong to and why we are here? Are we forgetting who the real enemy is? Are we forgetting those authorities of the unseen world that are wreaking havoc in our nation? Are we forgetting the weapons that God has given us for the purpose of bringing down strongholds? Are we forgetting the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the belt of truth and armor of righteousness? Are we forgetting the peace of the gospel, the preparation to share the good news? Are we forgetting the fruit of the spirit, the long-suffering and the joy? Are we forgetting to pray for those who persecute us? Are we forgetting to speak up for the voiceless? Are we forgetting our great commission? Are we letting our fear silence us, control us, wring our hands with worry about the future?

Are we forgetting who we are in Him?

I don’t want to forget anymore, not even for a moment.

We are not hopeless and we are not helpless. We are the People of the Cross, the Redeemed who can boldly approach the throne of grace in our time of need. We are the citizens of a Kingdom that is not shaking and will not fall. We are the sons and daughters of a King whose reign is unquestionable and whose power enables us to overcome the darkness. We are a people of unity and have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Remember – there’s nothing too hard for Him! Remember – all things are possible to those who will believe!

Therefore – WE WILL NOT ACCEPT DEFEAT and we will NOT FEAR when we stand against the schemes of satan. We will NOT cower, but carry our cross with the strength He gives us. We will not timidly shine our light into the world. We will not compromise in love or in truth. We WILL continue to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is still the power of God that brings salvation.

For those that we know are caught up in the chains and the traps of the enemy –it is the power of Jesus Christ that will release the captives and set the prisoners free. It is the power of Jesus Christ that opens blinded eyes and brings life from death. It is the power of Jesus Christ brings anyone that will believe into the family of God.

The election will come and the election will go, but GOD REMAINS. Whatever the outcome, we will trust Him in it. We will know that His purpose will endure. Our calling to work and build the Kingdom of God does not change…our calling to love does not change…our calling to be peacemakers does not change…our calling to live in grace, mercy, justice, holiness…none of these things are changing.

We are the bearers of the gospel, the sons and daughters of God with open hands overflowing with HOPE. His victory that is eternal – spanning far behind and beyond what we can see with our eyes – reigns in us. The Kingdom of Heaven –  that is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit – reigns in us. We are the LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

He is still Emmanuel – God WITH us.  

The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in the heavens and in the earth?-Psalm 113:4-6

Therefore, whom shall we fear and why should we be afraid?  The Lord is our light and salvation. The Lord is our stronghold. (from Psalm 27)

Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.-Ephesians 6:10

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Genesis 14:1-16

About this time war broke out in the region. King Amraphel of Babylonia, King Arioch of Ellasar, King Kedorlaomer of Elam, and King Tidal of Goiim  fought against King Bera of Sodom, King Birsha of Gomorrah, King Shinab of Admah, King Shemeber of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (also called Zoar).

This second group of kings joined forces in Siddim Valley (that is, the valley of the Dead Sea). For twelve years they had been subject to King Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled against him.

One year later Kedorlaomer and his allies arrived and defeated the Rephaites at Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzites at Ham, the Emites at Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites at Mount Seir, as far as El-paran at the edge of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (now called Kadesh) and conquered all the territory of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites living in Hazazon-tamar.

Then the rebel kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (also called Zoar) prepared for battle in the valley of the Dead Sea. They fought against King Kedorlaomer of Elam, King Tidal of Goiim, King Amraphel of Babylonia, and King Arioch of Ellasar—four kings against five. As it happened, the valley of the Dead Sea was filled with tar pits. And as the army of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into the tar pits, while the rest escaped into the mountains. The victorious invaders then plundered Sodom and Gomorrah and headed for home, taking with them all the spoils of war and the food supplies. They also captured Lot—Abram’s nephew who lived in Sodom—and carried off everything he owned.

But one of Lot’s men escaped and reported everything to Abram the Hebrew, who was living near the oak grove belonging to Mamre the Amorite. Mamre and his relatives, Eshcol and Aner, were Abram’s allies.

When Abram heard that his nephew Lot had been captured, he mobilized the 318 trained men who had been born into his household. Then he pursued Kedorlaomer’s army until he caught up with them at Dan. There he divided his men and attacked during the night. Kedorlaomer’s army fled, but Abram chased them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. Abram recovered all the goods that had been taken, and he brought back his nephew Lot with his possessions and all the women and other captives.

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What We Really Need

The world is a loud place right now. Opinions are flying quick, defenses are up, and everyone is out to get their point across to everyone else. People are mourning, people are hurting, violence continues because of hatred– and, in the midst of it all, the Body of Christ in our nation seems to be awakening to what it means to be in but not of this world. It has been a change-in-the-making for generations but we have been slow to understand the reality of it: what we believe does not align with the actions of our government and culture around us.

And in the realm of personal circumstances…I woke up last week with a scratch on my cornea. My eyeball was bright red and sensitive to movement, light, and being closed. My eyelid was swollen and pain radiated all around my eye. According to the doctor, the scratch was small and the responding inflammation was causing most of the pain.

Oddly enough, even though it causes discomfort – acute inflammation is meant to be a good thing. It’s part of our innate immunity, the body’s reaction to injury or infection. It’s the “body’s attempt at self-protection; the aim being to remove harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens, and begin the healing process.[i]” Without inflammation, our tissue would not heal but continue in distress until dying.

It’s an immediate response – whatever the injury might be, the body responds with redness, swelling, heat, and sensitivity to touch. “Inflammation primarily causes pain because the swelling pushes against the sensitive nerve endings, which send pain signals to the brain. Nerve endings send pain signals to the brain all day long; however, it learns to ignore most of them, unless pressure against the nerve endings increases.”

So inflammation is recognition of a problem and an immediate reaction to fix it.

On the other hand, inflammation can also become the problem. If the root cause not fixed, the inflammation itself can turn into a chronic issue that can bring serious problems to the entire body.

It seems, to me, like we – as a whole – have learned to ignore the pain signals our world has been sending our way for a long time. The violence, the fear, the suffering, the abortions, the sex trafficking, division, the hatred, the pornography, the ‘increase of wickedness[ii]’…it has been happening all along, but – for the most part – we have co-existed with it all.

But we felt the decision of the Supreme Court. This was the scratch that brought a reaction. This was pressure on sensitive nerve-endings…this was the church’s realization that our government does not have to base their decisions upon God’s definitions for mankind. We have learned to ignore much of what has slowly changed around us, but this moment was one we could not tune out. And voices are swooping in loud…the church is standing guard over this injury to examine how it happened, sensitive to every word and every touch, hoping to push out the irritant.

But let us be so careful to understand what the irritant actually is…let us be so careful to recognize where our healing is found….

Because the Church is not here to be represented by a government or by our culture – no, we are here to represent the reigning, unshakeable, eternal Kingdom of God.

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Here’s what I know for sure and this is where we find our hope: “…the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” (Psalm 33:11)

This is not the first time the church has been in an age of darkness…and hasn’t lighting up that darkness been the reason we are here all along?

When Jesus returned to heaven after His resurrection, the disciples were living in a place and a time that condemned and despised them. Rome was a nation that reveled in open sexuality, the worship of many gods, and violent entertainment. The Jewish leaders, too, persecuted Christians – they were told to be quiet, they were put in prison, they were killed.

Yet – the disciples knew that Jesus was alive. They knew the Holy Spirit was guiding and empowering them to obey the commands of Christ – even in that kind of oppression….even when they had no ‘rights’ in the land.

They were commissioned to speak the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They were empowered to build the Kingdom of God. They were loving as they had first been loved, sharing the truth that Jesus had died on the cross to forgive sins and to bring about a new, holy life.

They were not offended when called offensive. They were not surprised to suffer. They did not feel betrayed by a worldly kingdom that did not support them and they did not lash out at those who hated them. As they lived, so should we live as a people “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer…blessing those who persecute us… not overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good.[iii]

Our battle is not with people who are bound by sin…therefore arguing our point and calling out what we see as ‘unfair’ attitudes toward the church is not our calling here…for “the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.”(Gal. 5:17)

Can we remember how we were once living to “gratify the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts[iv]”? We cannot expect a people who have not been transformed by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit to live as though they are…for “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

There is a Righteous Judge. And, one day, He will set things right…and one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue proclaim that He is Lord. (Isaiah 45:23)

And in the mean-time, before that day comes? “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.[v]

No matter our differences, no matter our own emotions, whatever the circumstances are – we can’t make it about ‘us.’ We cannot turn our message into ‘us’ versus ‘them’ because “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.[vi]” The cry of our hearts, motivated by the purposes of God, will be: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.[vii]

We have the opportunity to hold out the same hope we have been given – “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.[viii]

So, having the mind of Christ, we humble ourselves. We love even when we are not loved in return – and love does not mean condoning sin, but speaking the truth of repentance and forgiveness. “Opponents must be gently instructed,” Paul says, “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.[ix]

When dealing with events that are hostile to the church and contrary to the Word of God, we must see clearly that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” If we put our eyes only on the events and the people around us, getting caught up in debate, we lose sight of what we need to do – which is live daily in the armor of God and with prayer[x]. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…[xi]

If this ‘injury’ – if this ‘scratch’ and the resulting ‘inflammation’ in the body of Christ results in an awakening to our calling to pray and intercede – fighting with the ‘weapons of God’ against the darkness so that people will be set free from sin – then what was meant for evil will be used for good.

In this vein, I think it pretty interesting that the term inflammation comes from the latin word “inflammo”, which means ‘I set alight. I ignite.’

This makes me think of the One who refines His people, the One who brings us through the fire of testing and trial to produce endurance, patience, character, and hope.

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I have to wonder – are we, as the people of God, in a pivotal moment between inflammation as a healing process – a time of awakening and refining — or allowing the inflammation to continue and become a harmful condition?

We have a choice. We can settle into this inflammation….we can focus on the pain, the indignation, and coming to our own defense in our own power…we can try revising the Word in order to appease and pacify…but not one of those options leads to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Not one of those options aligns with our knowledge that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus Christ or our commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.[xii]

In this place and in this moment, I can hear the words of Jesus – once spoken to a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years…–“Will you be made whole? …Do you want to get well?[xiii]

Will we choose to say yes? Will we turn our attention from the symptoms and allow God to examine our hearts?

Here is where healing begins: at the throne of God, remembering who He is and who we are. It begins with us – honestly asking God to search within…have we loved like He first loved us? Have we been numbed to the sin in our own lives? Have compromise and complacency found a place in our hearts and in our churches?

Healing is repentance and returning to our first love…we cannot forget that it is His love and mercy that have changed us. We cannot forget that His sacrifice on the cross saved us. We cannot forget that the death and resurrection of Jesus brings salvation and life for all who will believe. “He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.” (2 Tim.1:9)

Healing comes with our surrender to God. Healing comes with our obedience. Healing comes when we know our purpose as a follower of Jesus and, together, as the body of Christ…putting our trust in Him.

Isn’t this the moment? Isn’t now the time to wake up and ask for this healing?

For such a time as this, may we rise, take up our beds, and walk![xiv]

We are here to be the Kingdom of God, to be His people and His body. We do not find our security in the laws of the land. We do not place our trust in man. We do not expect to be lauded by culture. We are not frantic or anxious, because we place our confidence in Him.

We are here to be the salt and the light – we are not to hide away because of fear. We are peacemakers.

We are here to declare the hope of the nations is Jesus Christ…we are here to work in a ministry of reconciliation, to feed the hungry, to care for those in need, to shine into the darkness, to reach out to the lonely, to love one another.

We are here to stand and declare the gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who will believe[xv] – and because our foundation is the Rock that is Higher, we will not be moved. For Jesus Himself established this body – “upon this rock,” He said in Matthew 16, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

No matter what happens, His Word endures. No matter what happens – in life, in death, in tribulation — we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.

Through it all, we will not be separated from the love of Jesus. Through it all, He is with us. There is an eternal purpose unfolding and through it all, He is God.

“…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. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” -Romans 13:12


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[i] Quotes from Medical News Today [ii] Matt. 24:12 [iii] Romans 12:12, 14, 21 [iv] Eph. 2:3 [v] Gal. 5:20 [vi] 2 Cor. 4:4-5 [vii] 2 Cor. 5:20 [viii] Eph. 2:4-5 [ix] 2 Tim.2:25-26 [x] Eph. 6 [xi] 2 Cor. 10: 3-6 [xii] Matt. 28:18-20 [xiii] John 5:5-6 [xiv] John 5:8    [xv] Romans 1:16

as we wait for Morning {finding hope in the One who has overcome}

It is a hard season.  It seems like more grief, more struggle comes with each day. It is like the whole world is crying out in pain. While I watch the news and listen to interviews, it is difficult to even take in all of the broken places and broken hearts. It seems like so many things are falling apart, so many people are hurting.  And so we mourn with those who mourn – all the while praying, all the while interceding for those who are suffering…because, even as darkness seems to overtake the world, right in front of our eyes – our prayers are heard by the One who has already overcome that darkness. And, even as this Night – long though it may be – is filled with weeping, He will bring Morning again.

These are the days when we put our trust in His eternal perspective, in His enduring goodness…in the truth of His love, in the working of all things for the good of those who love Him.

These are the days when we stand on His promises given in love, promises of a story that does not end with death and a world that will be restored. These are the days when we put our faith in His Sovereign power, living with hope because He is able to fulfill every word He has spoken, every promise made.  Even while the circumstances of the future are uncertain – a reality made more clear every day – we depend upon the truth that every tomorrow is held in His hands and His power to carry us is certain…for the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3)

Jesus walked on this earth with us, laid down His life because our forever-futures mattered to Him. His resurrection crushed the head of the enemy. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:8) And because Jesus is alive, all authority is His – and, one day, the enemy himself will be completely destroyed. Darkness, death, and satan himself will be no more. Every curse of sin will be broken. Every night of mourning shall end.

And although the trouble in this world is almost incomprehensible, it is in His authority we put our trust when everything else falls to pieces and it is His resurrection power that gives us the strength we need as we wait for that Morning to dawn.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And 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. –Eph. 1:18-23

Jesus told the disciples that in this world, they would have trouble – and this is where we are, in the middle of trouble after trouble – but He went on to say ‘Take heart! For I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33)

No matter what our right-now-vision may see, His Word declares that the children of God are more than conquerors in ‘trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword’. His Word declares that we have “all-surpassing power” from God…we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:7-8) His Word declares that we will triumph by the word of our testimony and the blood of the Lamb. (Rev. 12:11)

The Savior who is our advocate, our reconciliation with the Father, our atoning sacrifice – all authority, all power, all supremacy belongs to Him. And this is the same Jesus who intercedes for His people. He knows every single heart that is overwhelmed with turmoil, every heart that is crumbling, every loss, every tear. He does not leave us – He does not forsake us.

I hope that we can hold onto this with all of our hearts and all of our strength – because, in a time such as this, we need to know Our Savior has already been victorious and – He gives us this reassurance in Rev. 1:17-18:  “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

Knowing this, we will not give into despair but will allow His love and His hope shine ever brighter through us.

“….My Word that goes out from My mouth…will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it…

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and He rules with a mighty arm. See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him. He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart…

“I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.”  (From the book of Isaiah 40, 55, 60)

Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoots I have planted, the work of My hands, for the display of My splendor. The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation.

I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.”

And as we hold onto our hope in Him, as we wait for Him, may we act. It may feel like a small thing, what we offer, but our God is the God of miracles who takes little and makes it much. He is the God who hears the prayers of righteous men and women and makes those prayers ‘availeth much’. (James 5:16) May we intercede for our brothers and sisters, may we have open hands to help meet their needs. Let us not turn away from the darkness or fear it– because the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.-John 1:5

(resources for reaching out:…to the body of Christ — and to those in Nepal)

For Your Sunday…Scripture&Song

Light of lights! All gloom dispelling,
Thou didst come to make thy dwelling
Here within our world of sight.
Lord, in pity and in power, Thou didst in our darkest hour
Rend the clouds and show thy light.

Praise to thee in earth and heaven
Now and evermore be given,
Christ, who art our sun and shield.
Lord, for us thy life thou gavest,
Those who trust in thee thou savest,
All thy mercy stands revealed.
-St. Thomas Aquinas

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. -Titus 3:4

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