Service and Sacrifice

The other night, we had the pleasure of spending time with a dear friend, who spent last summer volunteering as a teacher in Kenya.  She remarked how odd it is to her that people view her as a "missionary" or that what she's done is viewed as a great sacrifice.  For her, she was merely doing what she loves...what God has called on her to do.  Her love for God is greater than the love she has for herself, so that what she does for Him does not feel like a sacrifice at all.  In short, her time in Africa is "true and proper worship."

In his letter to the Romans, Paul spends most of the text expounding on faith -- in short, we've done nothing to earn our salvation, which is wholly dependent on God's mercy.  Though there's nothing we can do to earn God's mercy (otherwise it wouldn't be called mercy but our just reward), Paul teaches how we're to respond to God's mercy, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship."  (Rom 12:1)  In light of the knowledge that our Lord and Creator loves us enough to offer us a chance at spending eternity in His holy presence, we ought to be overwhelmed and look for ways to please and worship Him.

Lest it's misunderstood, the offering of our bodies for sacrifice does not mean the end of our lives.  Rather, the living sacrifice means that our primary motivation is to please and honor God.  Christians speak of following Jesus's footsteps in all that we do, that doesn't mean that we seek ways to turn water into wine or raise the dead back to life.  No, we're to live our lives based on answers to the question we're to ask at all times, "What is God's will?"

For our friend, her heart is aligned with God's will so that His pleasure is her pleasure.  As we serve and give, we ought to do so with the same cheerful heart.  If we don't find joy in serving and giving and merely out of obligation, then we deprive ourselves of basking in His grace and receiving his commendation.

Tragedy: How do we respond?

Over the last week, the nation has mourned and grieved over the senseless loss of innocents at Sandy Hook.  We've all responded to the grief in differing ways, I imagine.

Upon hearing the news, work seemed insignificant to me.  I wanted to embrace my loved ones and not let go (until both my kids squirmed out of my grasp with that, "What's gotten into you look" they've perfected).  For those whom I couldn't embrace, I wanted to make sure they knew that I love them.  Try as we might, we cannot always prevent or avoid tragedies.  Should this be my last day, I want no love left unexpressed.

Many people began espousing their positions over gun control.  I took that as our human tendency to assign blame or seek ways in which this could have been prevented.  My first response was to question whether it was too soon, and our emotions too raw, to have such a debate.  But I realized that, for some, this satisfied their need to grieve.  Grief, for many of us, involves the question of why and what could have been done.

As for me and my family, we pray.  Some have scoffed at this response and questioned its efficacy.  They miss the point.  The measure of successful prayer is the prayer itself.  We pray not so that we'll see specific results, though specific results have happened.  We pray for the necessary assurance and reminder that God is in control.  During tragedies, loved ones grieve together and draw closer.  That is God's desire for His children.  As we pray for peace and comfort for the families who've been devastated, we don't need to know that their hearts have been touched to measure the success of prayer.  The very act of prayer is success in itself for we've turned to our loving God for comfort.

For those who don't believe in prayer, then I agree that, for you, prayer is fruitless.  However, if you're at all interested, I'd by happy to share my thoughts (shocking, I know!).

Test of Faith: Who's in Charge?

A proverb has been on my heart for the last couple of days, "Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails."  (Prov 19:21)

I'm sure I've read this verse in the past and just glossed over it.  Subconsciously, I didn't want to believe that I wasn't in charge.  To accept that leads to the question of what the point of my life is.  Why do I bother with anything if God's purpose will ultimately prevail anyways?

Thankfully, I can now find comfort in this verse.  The illusion that my ways are the best (or only ways) is dispelled.  Faith means more than just believing in God.  Faith, as a disciple of Christ, means I can rest assured with the knowledge that God has the power, means, and desire to care for me.  Faith means I can plan and do my best, but in the end, He will succeed.  And by His success, I will be blessed.

So, I ask each of you reading, does this verse comfort you?  Or do you find it disconcerting?  Are you more comfortable when you're in control or in knowing that God's purpose will ultimately and always prevail?

Who Is Wealthy? (Reprinted)

(NOTE: I'd written the following a few weeks after returning from Cameroon.  It seems appropriate to repost today.)

The typical Cameroonian has little material wealth.  Most farm and depend on the little income they get at market from their farmed goods for subsistence.

Judged by their homes and outward appearances, Cameroonians appear impoverished.  But spiritually, riches abound.  They take great pride in their labors and farms.  What they have was eagerly shared with us.  Our lunches came straight from their fields.  After a day of farming, they came to sing and dance with us to lift OUR spirits.  On the last day we were in Lassin, to express their thanks, they gave us more food than we could carry on our car and van. We were outfitted with shirts and dresses out of fine cloth.  These are the same people who may not have EVER purchased anything beyond food and material required for the farm.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on."  (Mark 12:43-44)

Lest you think I came back and gave away all of our possession and took to wearing sackcloth and eating locusts and honey....  Don't worry.  My appetite is still plenty healthy for much more.  What I did bring back, however, is a more acute sense of what's important.  Like any gift from God, riches can be a blessing.  We're not called to be poor, but we are warned to not cling to material wealth.  
  • Matt 6:19-21: Store treasures in heaven
  • Matt 13:22: Parable of the Seeds, "fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it"
  • 1 Tim 6:9-10: "love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" is well known

Receiving Blessings

Have you ever greeted a stranger and, in return, received a look that seems to say, "Who are you and what do you want?"  Maybe you've offered to help someone at the grocery store and been rebuffed.  When I had first moved to New York, I was told to avoid eye contact when riding the subway.  It's hard to wish someone a good morning or pleasant evening when they avoid looking at you.

Perhaps people have good reason for cynicism.  Maybe they've been hurt before.  However, it's tragic to think that the very people who may need it the most miss out on simple blessings.

I have no simple solutions for overcoming cynicism.  I thought of writing a few bullets on overcoming distrust.  But they felt forced.  Maybe distrust is even warranted.  However, I can't avoid the grief in thinking that pain begets pain.  As we're hurt, we can tend to go deeper into our shell preventing others from walking with us toward healing.

Last Saturday, we helped hundreds of families with food for the holidays.  Each family was provided with three heavy bags of food.  As we came alongside them with carts to ease their load, many rejected our efforts.  Others wouldn't look us in the eyes -- likely caused by shame and pride.  Still others tried to take more than their allowance -- a small battle they could win to maintain a sense of control.

Food For Life from Crazy Cow Productions on Vimeo.

My prayer this Thanksgiving is that more people will find it in their hearts to receive blessings.  Only then will they see that God truly does work through his faithful disciples.  I also pray that those called to serve do nothing to threaten the fragile trust we humans have in each other.

True thanks come when we appreciate what we've received.  The greatest thanks, however, come when we realize the blessings are undeserved and yet intended solely for us.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Kenya Beckons

A year and a half ago, I spent three weeks with God.  While that sounds dramatic, it's the best way I can describe my experience in Cameroon.  For most of the three weeks, we were in the remote (even by Cameroonian standards) village of Lassin without running water or electricity.  When you wake up in the middle of the night, there's nothing to do but pray.  For many hours over many nights, I talked with God.  One recurring conversation was how I ended up there and why I went.  I may never know God's purpose but mine became simpler and clearer with time: He called.  Personally, I had nothing to gain and even less to offer.  (Our project was to build the roof for a church.  I was so ill-equipped I had to buy a hammer and tool belt.)  There was no noble purpose in going.  Many family and friends, even without voicing it, must have wondered whether I'd gone off the deep end and traveled such a distance while leaving Peggy and our kids.

One of the struggles many Christian have is in discerning the will of God.  Cameroon was the first and still clearest time where I knew, without a doubt, that's where God wanted me.  The villagers who had faced many struggles found joy in knowing the Americans (including the Asian "Jackie," as I was known there) had traveled many miles to serve God and them.  Pastors traveled many miles on their scooters to join us in study, worship, and service.  And, I need not deny, my heart danced knowing the Spirit was alive within me. Even as I write this, I'm frustrated by my inability to communicate the sheer joy in knowing that I was doing exactly what our Lord wanted.

I share all this to provide some background on why I'm excited to consider an opportunity to go to Kenya next July.  For years now, our church partnered with ministries serving on the ground in Kenya.  We've had the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to look after the sick, orphans, and widows (and chickens).  We also have the opportunity to finally meet children we've loved through Tumaini Ministries.  (To learn more of life in Kenya, take a look at the blog of our dear friend Emily, who spent last summer teaching in Kenya.)

As my family and I prayerfully prepare our hearts for this wonderful opportunity, I ask that each of you join us in prayer.
  • May we go with servants' hearts willing to do what's needed to care for, comfort and bring joy to others.  
  • May the love we share stem from the overflowing love we enjoy ourselves from knowing Jesus.  
  • May our hearts and motives be pure and selfless -- to please and honor our Lord through service.  
  • May any who are called to go have no concerns about finances. 

Gotcha Day - 4 Years

Four years ago today, we held our daughter, Bella, for the first time.  The first time she laid eyes on us, she bawled and only stopped when her brother sang her, "Amazing Grace."  Though she was already 15 months old at that point, it would still be weeks before she could sit up on her own.  It would be months before she could walk and a couple of years before she trusted us enough to truly consider us her family.

Today, we couldn't stop her from dancing if we tried.  Her song and words bring joy to us all.  She brings a touch of gentility to complement her brother's wildness.

We have been blessed in so many ways with Bella.  Happy Gotcha Day my beloved baby girl.

Within minutes of holding her for the first time
The day after...Bella could walk with help but had neither the strength or the confidence to walk on her own.
Our travel group - when you take a journey like this together, you develop strong bonds.

Elections and Babysitters

It's the day after elections.  If the social media is an accurate reflection, you're either dancing with joy or dejected.  This is true whether you're a Christian or not.  But all believers, I offer this as a reminder of the context of this election to eternity.

Last Friday, Peggy and I were blessed with a long, overdue date night.  A large part of that blessing was finding a loving babysitter with whom we entrusted our children.  Before we chose this babysitter, we looked for input from our children to see if they had any major objections.  While we'd listen, the decision was ours since their standards may not be the same as ours.  Like them, we want somebody who's fun and can relate to them.  However, more important to us is a babysitter who's responsible and will look out for the best interests of our children.  Thankfully, we found someone who meets all of those criteria.  Even if we hadn't, we would expect our children to treat our chosen babysitter with respect and obey her....within limits.  (We would allow our kids to resist if the babysitter is doing anything that's blatantly dangerous/harmful and obviously against the fundamentals that we've taught them.  Those are intended to be narrow limits.)

Peg and I are human and, therefore, imperfect.  Try as we might, we don't always make the best or wisest choices.  (We have been blessed with wonderful babysitters but, in our limitations, we're bound to make mistakes.)  If, in spite of our imperfections, we expect our children to respect and obey our chosen guardian, what would our all-knowing, sovereign Father in heaven expect of us?  (Rom 13:1)  I would take it a step further.  Not only are we to respect and obey (again, within limits), we are to do it joyfully.  (Rom 13:5)  Whether you personally voted for the current president or not, remember that God is sovereign.  The American people have been heard, but it was God who chose.  Because of the hope that we have in God, let us rejoice in the freedoms in this world and the true (greater) freedoms in being reconciled.  The hope that we, as believers, have does not depend on the decisions made in the next four years.  Ultimately, we need to cling to the fact that any guardian we have in this world is but a flicker in the shining light of eternity. "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied." (1 Cor 15:19)

So for all my brothers and sisters in the faith out there, whether you're dancing with joy or dejected, let us keep your eyes up above.  Let us honor and respect our Father's chosen.  Let us continue to do His will and follow His commands to love Him, love others, and glory Him in all things.

How Do You Measure Faith?

A couple of days ago, a friend tweeted this question, "How do you measure faith?"  Several times, I started to post a response but it just never felt right.  I started with, "Only God knows..." but that's a truism that does little to satisfy our hunger to be more faithful.  Even as I write this, I don't have a good answer but I can start by sharing what I believe it's not:

  1. Our faith is imperfect: Let me be clear, there's no doubt in my mind that a loving God exists and all that the gospel assures us.  At the same time, as an object of creation there are things that I cannot understand and there are trials that I still must face.  To assume perfect faith in the face of those trials would lead me away from the only One who can get me through those trials.
  2. We cannot measure based on our works: The Epistle of James is clear that faith is more than mere thought or words.  True faith would prompt us to act on the love of merciful savior.  However, how we act and how that action looks will differ for each of us.  For some, tremendous faith is required to get out of bed knowing the battles that await.  For another, a long term mission in a foreign country was motivated by a desire to escape his circumstances rather than a servant's heart.
  3. More than a moment or occasional: Several years ago, I had Lasix to correct my eyes.  Within minutes, I went from near legal blindness to 20/20 vision.  Within days I was driving, walking and working with my new vision.  In much the same way, our view of the world should be transformed.  What we view, do, and understood should be through the lense of faith.
So it affects our perspective, others can't see it and we never really get there so it's all relative, right?  To each his/her own, right?  Back to the truism, God knows.  And, I believe, each of us know.  Faith is our desire toward holiness, a deliberate choice to draw closer to God.  So while it cannot be seen, it's obvious.  Part of the obviousness comes from the totality of change.  Beyond affecting what we do on Sundays or what we say before meals, faith affects how we spend scarce resources.  When trials knock on our door, faith enables us to resist the urge to cower and answer the call.  Faith means choosing and doing with no self-interest, out of obedience to His will.  In a world full of darkness, faith is the beacon of light that would prompt someone travel to a distant land and love another with only the hope to they'll one day be greeted with the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

For me, the measure of faith truly is relative, but not as you might think.  I look to yesterday, today and tomorrow.  My faith should be greater today than yesterday and draw me ever closer to God tomorrow.

Learning to Lift: Jesus Style

As my 9-year old has grown, I've learned, out of necessity, the right and wrong ways to lift him.  If we're trying to get over a wall, the right way is to squat down and give him a boost.  The wrong way, trying to pull him up the wall, would only succeed in pulling me back down.

Whether we do it consciously or not, many Christians try to "help" people in the wrong way.  We sit atop our metaphorical perches, believing we know better, and have the means to lift people higher.  Believing we can "inspire" others, we hide our own mistakes and boast of our good deeds.  The great commission was to first make disciples.  Only then should we to teach them to obey.  The only thing that seems to inspire is a desire to give us a swift kick in the...I digress.

Not only does that tact fail, we, ourselves, fall into perhaps the most dangerous of sins: pride.  In order to reach that perch on the wall, we use the very people we're trying to help as footstools.  If we try to pull them up by force from above, we risk falling from the perch ourselves.

Scripture teaches us to love and serve.  Service means going to people's needs.  Service means talking to the woman at the well and offering living water.  Lifting people up means cleaning and bandaging their wounds even if they're our sworn enemies.  We must not only be willing to dine with sinners, we must be prepared to wash their feet.

Jesus himself came down from His heavenly throne to give us a boost.  If we wish to lead people to the cross, we must give them a boost from below.  "For all have sinned and fall short."  By that, we relate and give glory.
if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spiritd should restoree that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Gal 6:1)

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.  (Luke 11:46)

My Epitaph

What would I want to be inscribed on my tombstone?  Some may find it grim that I'm planning for my death. I'm just trying to make it easier on Peggy so she can just pick out the material and font for my tombstone without having to figure out the wording.

Actually, having my epitaph now gives me a clear mission toward which I can align my life.  Articulating it publicly invites those I trust and value to hold me accountable.

He reflected our loving Savior.
For ages, children in church have sung, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."  While it's true, I've been blessed to now grasp his love in deeper and broader ways -- intellectually, emotionally, and Spiritually.  My life's greatest accomplishment would be to share that love with anyone with whom I come in contact.

But let me be clear.  While I want to love all of humanity, it doesn't comes easily or naturally to me.  Rather, what's natural is to be impatient and judgmental.  Only when I realize and remember that love for, from and through Jesus can true love for my neighbors manifest itself.

So there you have it.

  • Hon, it's $50/letter so we'd better start saving now.  
  • Brothers and sisters of the faith, hold me to it.  
  • Father, mold, chisel, and fire away.  I pray that I will be transformed for your glory.  Amen.

Home Alone-ish (at 40-ish): UPDATED

NOTE: I'd posted this late on 7/8 but was remiss in leaving off #4.

Peggy's been out of town for 2 days, 15 hours, and 27 minutes.  During that time, this is what I've realized.

1. I don't appreciate her nearly enough when she's home.  Why is it that we (or just I?) have to be without to realize and appreciate what we have?  Why is it so easy to take someone we love for granted?  She effortlessly juggles cleaning, feeding, and teaching of 3 young ones (2 underage and one 40-ish).  Just because she makes it seem effortless doesn't mean that it is effortless.  I've walked 10 feet in her shoes...that's enough to know.

2. Her very presence is comforting.  This morning, at church, Luke sat alone in Peg's darkened, empty classroom fight back the tears.  His class is next door.  He couldn't get through Sunday school without assurance that mommy's across the wall.

3. How can I be stern with the kids when mommy's not here to save, comfort and explain?  One minute, I'm scolding and the next I'm speaking in gentle, calming tones.  Poor Bella laughs when I raise my voice and cowers when I bend down for a hug.  Luke just stays out of my way all together.  At least we can all agree that I'm certifiable.

4. Our church (Valley Christian) is family.  As soon as they heard that I would be alone with the kids, I received offers to help with the kids and invitations to dinner.  This has been our church family for 16 months but it seems so much longer, mostly because of the comfort and love we feel here.  The relationships are real and deep.  This is what it means to live "in the light" (Eph 5:1,8).  I pray that more will experience this love.

Now Peg's been gone for 2 days, 15 hours, and 45 minutes.  Despite how it may appear, I'm not complaining.  In fact, I think it's good that mothers/wives have some time to themselves to recharge.  It's a taste of "It's a Wonderful Life" for those who benefit from you.

Hon, I can't wait for you to be home in 40 hours and 9 minutes.  We love you.

I'm Sorry?

Have the words, "I'm sorry," become so automatic that they no longer carry any weight?  From the moment we  learn to speak, our parents train us to utter those two words whenever they think we've wronged.  True to our training, many of us utter those words reflexively.  Look up the definition of apology in the dictionary and you may be surprised by the two primary definitions:

1: a formal justification : defense2: an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret
While I'd like to believe that my apologies are in line with #2 (i.e. repentance), I instinctively feel the need to explain why I did what I did.  Most people who've been wronged wouldn't feel any better after receiving such an apology.  After all, you've hurt them.  Do they really want to hear why?

Why do we apologize anyways?  When we're taught to apologize as soon as we've been caught, we understand apologies to be a consequence.  When we're caught, we apologize.  If we don't apologize, the punishment will be more severe.  Hence, our goal is to avoid getting caught.  And, if we fail that, apologize so we suffer less punishment.  With that in mind, it makes sense that we launch into a defense and justification.

But inside, I think we all know that an apology should be less about justification and more about admitting error.  Apologies should be less about us and more about the person who's been harmed.  Whatever our intention, whatever our reason, our actions have caused harm.  When we aplogize, our first and foremost thought should be to make that person whole.

With our children, I no longer ask them to apologize.  Rather, I'll ask them to make it right.  That should include an apology but only as part of a larger act of making the harmed person whole.  Physical or emotional, the wound must be bandaged.  An emotional bandage requires an assurance that a lesson has been learned and the harm should not be repeated.

For many, this may seem rudimentary.  I would've thought so too.  I pray that when I harm someone, I don't do further damage with an apology that smacks of self-preservation rather than wronging a right.  For my children, I pray that I can be a godly example.

Why I Love Being a Father

"We never know the love of our parents for us until we have become parents."
-Henry Ward Beecher

While the Reverend Beecher may have been speaking of earthly parents, my love and appreciation for our Heavenly Father has grown in breadth and depth since becoming a father myself.  The analogy, I'm sure, has been made before, but I want to be careful and explicit when I make it here.  In saying that seeing my children has helped me to better understand how our Father in heaven sees us, I want to be careful that I'm not equating myself to God in any way.  However, I do believe there's something to be learned.  In understanding how a lot relates to a little, I can catch a glimpse of how infinity relates to a lot.

Taking Pride in Their Conduct
One of the great joys in parenting is receiving a compliment on our children.  To be more accurate, there's joy when our children is complimented for traits we value.  I can assure you that I'll be less than joyful to hear of our children's ingenuity in skirting rules (i.e. cheating).  The reason for this joy is completely egotistical as we interpret (whether it's intended or not) the compliment is to our ability in transferring our values to our children.

As Christians, we're God's ambassadors whether we like it or not.  Even when we feel we've been judged unfairly, our reaction to that injustice reflects on our Father in heaven.  When we are unnaturally loving and forgiving, God beams with joy (i.e. Glory!) as people have little choice but to credit Him.

Joy from Grace
Through a combination of money from chores/jobs, reward for good grades and gift money, Luke purchased his own iPod.  The satisfaction in having earned his new toy was clear on his face.  A few minutes later, that joy turned into a celebration when he realized that we'd added a couple of $.99 games.

Though we're happy to get the $99 we feel we deserve, it's that $1 we get for no good reason that puts us over the top.  The "trick" then is realizing that the less we view as "merited", the greater the opportunity for grace-induced joy.

What's Mercy without Justice?
One of the tenets in our home is that all choices have consequences.  To reinforce this lesson, we've tried to consistently apply punishment when poor/bad choices are made.  On occasion, when we've seen true regret, we've waived or shortened the punishment.  The look of gladness and relief tells us that they get it and the lesson won't be forgotten.

If you're new to church and didn't know better, you'd think there are two Gods with the way some of us talk about the God of the Old Testament versus the New.  We cannot truly appreciate God's love as demonstrated through forgiveness and forbearance unless we accept that justice will be served when the time is right

Some may wonder how I could get this far without talking the joys of seeing the world through children's eyes or celebrating all the milestones as our children mature.  How can I write about being a father without talking more about my children.  While there's certainly I treasure the opportunity to provide, protect and teach my children, I've realized that the greatest gift I can give them is a faithful walk with God.  So what I love about being a father is that they've pushed me to be more faithful, which, in turn, has helped me to become a better father.

Worshiping Like a High School Dance

Much of our worship is like a high school dance.  I look around and decide forms that are comfortable to me.  Should I raise my hands?  Should my arms be stretched taut to the sky or more subtly as if cradling a baby?  Dare I start swaying to the music or would that be too much like dancing!?  Judging for comfort often means that I don't dare stand out too much.  After all, there's a certain propriety that must be maintained, right?

We should all be blessed to witness unbridled worship.  A woman from our church is spending her summer serving in Kenya.  Through her, we catch a glimpse of the freedom in Christ manifested in song and dance.  Some may still question whether that form of worship is simply the norm in other cultures.  But if you've experienced it, you get the sense that they've tuned out the world.  Nobody is looking around to see if they're dancing to the same rhythm or if they're singing louder than their neighbors.  Their only concern is communing with God.

I share these thoughts not to be critical but out of grief.  Until we've experienced this form of worship, we haven't fully experienced the freedom that was purchased on the Cross.

Peace: The Upper and Lower Stories

Peace is a value emphasized throughout Scripture.  Search the NIV and you'll find the word, "peace" 98 times in the New Testament alone.  John's Gospel tells of the peace that Jesus bestowed on His disciples before His arrest (John 14:27, 16:33) and the peace He grants them after His resurrection as they're commissioned to do His work (John 20:19-26).  Even one of the Beatitudes refers to peacemakers (Matt 5:9).

What could Jesus possibly mean, then, when He said that He didn't come to bring peace but division or a sword?  (Luke 12:51, Matt 10:13)

Several months ago, our church was starting the peacemaking class offered by Peacemaker® Ministries.  As an introduction, I wanted to come up with concise reasons why peacemaking should be foundational to Christian Living, right up there with Bible-study and serving the least of us.  I'd drafted no fewer than 10 blog entries proclaiming the importance of peacemaking, but I could never get past Jesus's statement qualifying our expectation of peace.

Our church has been studying the Bible this year through, "The Story."  One of the key concepts emphasized in this study is that throughout the Bible, which is to say, through creation, there's both an upper story (God's sovereign purposes) and a lower story (how we relate to that in our lives).  There are times when God will grant us temporal blessings in the lower story.  But interwoven throughout time is God's upper story, where His good and eternal purpose will be served.

Within this context, I began to understand that the upper story peace comes with reconciliation with God.  So as the "Prince of Peace," Jesus offers us the path to reconciliation (Acts 10:36, Rom 5:1).  Based on this view of peace, the salutations in most of the epistles that contain the wish for peace does not refer to a life free of conflict.  Rather, it's a word of encouragement by directing hope up above, which transcends our lives of conflict.

It's only when we have that upper story peace that our lower story peace can unfold.  Oftentimes, we, as believers, get that causation wrong.  We often think that by doing something in the lower story, we'll satisfy some desire in God's upper story.  No matter how much peace we try to practice by being meek, by compromising, or even avoiding conflict, we will not be called the children of God.  Rather, by accepting Jesus into our hearts, peace will emanate and we will be called the children of God.  (Rom 8:14)

But does that mean that we should accept conflict in our lower story, which is in our everyday lives?  By no means!  (Now I'm channeling the Apostle Paul.)  Once we accept that reconciliation with God is what leads us to becoming peacemakers, then we can begin to explore how we should respond to conflicts in a way that honors Him.

1. Unity in the Church (John 17:20-23, Psa 133:1)
One of the Jesus's last prayers before his arrest was for the unity of all believers.  In our unity, "Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."  (John 17:23)  Unity is not  for our pleasure but because we are the reflection of Him.

2. Free of Worries (John 14:27)
Focusing on eternity does not preclude the life, and accompanying troubles, of this world. Conflict, in this world, is assured.  But if we live by the Spirit rather than the flesh, we're freed from the insatiable bond of desire.  (Rom 8)

3. Act of Worship (Col 3:15-17)
The next time you're gripped by anger and bitterness, sing a song of praise to God.  Anger and worship cannot coexist in our hearts.  In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus suggests (okay, commands!) that before we offer a gift at the alter, we should go and reconcile a conflict.

4. Love in Action (Rom 12:9-21)
Just as we're called to look after orphans and widows, peacemaking is another act of service.  The world would have us compete for superiority and right wrongs against us.  But we're to live by a different standard -- to follow God's good and perfect will.  (Rom 12:2)  By responding in a uniquely Christ-like manner is to draw attention to the glory and goodness of God.

Now, back to Luke 12:51, where Jesus said that He didn't come to bring peace but division.  Choosing a life of peace through Christ is not an easy choice and will not make our troubles go away.  Rather, the choice itself can and will lead to conflict and persecution.  But that's in the lower story -- we can rest assured with the knowledge that once we've chosen to cleave to Christ, His love is inseparable.  (Rom 8:37-39)

Sharing Peace

Tomorrow, the peacemaking team at our church will meet for the first time.  Our vision is to be known as the peacemaking church.  By helping people through conflict, we can offer a glimpse of the eternal peace that's available to us through Christ.  Historically, Christians, as a corporate body, have not always modeled peace.  If we follow Scripture, the world would know us distinctively through the unity of the believers.  We have a ways to go.  Thankfully, we won't do it alone.

I pray that we will be faithful to His purpose and His guidance.  I pray that we will find strength and encouragement in His Spirit and in each other.

No Fool

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."  Jim Elliot

One of my heroes, Jim Elliot, gave his life to the very people he prayed would be saved.  Years later, they were.  Many would consider him foolish for giving up certainty (life on earth) for unprovable beliefs (eternal salvation).  What I do know is that life and possessions are fleeting, but God is faithful and worth serving.