The Way to Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God – Matthew 5:9

Peace. It would be a nice thing wouldn’t it? I have a hunch, call it a gut instinct, that world peace isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Peace is honestly hard to come by. We don’t really have much peace in our country right now. There isn’t peace in political parties. There isn’t peace between countries. There isn’t a whole lot of peace in many churches in our country. There isn’t always peace even within the same family.

How can we be peacemakers? The reality is, the only way we can be a peacemaker is if we are meek. Remember, the first four principles in the Beattitudes (Matthew 5:3-11) are internal, the next four are the external, living out of, the first four.

This principle of the peacemakers is the living out of Matthew 5:5 where Jesus says blessed are the meek.

God makes peace

The Bible contains over four hundred direct and indirect references to peace. The Bible begins in Genesis with peace in the Garden of Eden, and the Bible closes out in Revelation with peace in Eternity.

Through sin entering the world, peace is not reminiscent of our existence on earth. There was a major newspaper that reported in 1968 there had been, to that date, 14,553 known wars since 36 B.C. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 209-210). There have been many more since.

The peace Jesus references here is not peace to the absence of conflict or hardship, but instead is the “presence of righteousness” because “only righteousness can produce the relationship that brings two parties together” (211).

A peace treaty only goes so far. It is a document with words and a signature. It is not a change or transformation of the heart. The peace of God is not burying the issue and signing a treaty, but is a resolution of the issues and a restoration of a harmonious relationship.

Two people cannot be at peace until they recognize and resolve the wrong attitudes and actions that caused the conflict between them, and then bring themselves to God for cleansing… Biblically speaking, then, where there is true peace there is righteousness, holiness, and purity. Trying to bring harmony and compromising righteousness forfeits both (MacArthur, 211).

I think we see this even in the world around us. “Peace” often is temporary. It is until that person does something to add to what they’ve already done. Peace isn’t a forgiving of the past, but a bandaid that doesn’t really heal.

Peace is built on HUMILITY but requires a PRICE

There really cannot be peace without humility. The meek, humble person has recognized his or her position before God, has responded in faith, and is now at peace with God.

A peacemaker, first and foremost, is at peace with God. Then, the peacemaker leads others to make peace with God. And then helps people make peace with other people.

The peacemaker is a bridge builder, finding common ground and unity, and helping relationships be restored.

But it’s not easy. Making peace is never easy. Living a humble life is not easy, because it is not natural. Peace is thus built on humility and requires you as a peacemaker to pay a price.

You have to give up your right to be offended, to hold on to wrongdoing, to take revenge. The price of peace, though, comes with a reward. Those who are peacemakers are called sons and daughters of God. That is not reserved for everyone.

 

Intentionally seek to be a peacemaker today. Everywhere you go, look for ways to make peace (especially when it’s difficult).

What’s in your heart?

The heart is an important part of life. It’s not only physically important, in that our heart pumps blood through our entire body and without it we cannot live. Any medical problem with the heart is a really big deal. Even more important than the physical heart, though, is the deeper meaning of “heart” we often talk about as an invisible quality someone has. Rocky Balboa had “heart” to stay in the fight and keep going. Physically he should have been done, but he kept going because of a deeper, invisible quality.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. – Matthew 5:8

The heart as we use it here is defined as “the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors.” (https://lumina.bible.org/bible/Matthew+5). That is what the heart is. It’s much deeper than the physical.

Someone pure in heart is “one whose motives are unmixed, whose thoughts are holy, whose conscience is clean.” (William MacDonald, “Matthew” in Believer’s Bible Commentary, 3809).

Pure in heart is more than doing good things or being a good person. This is down to the very core of who I am as an individual, made in the image and likeness of God. There is something more going on beneath the surface of someone pure in heart. It is worked out in the physical realm, we can see it, but it comes from somewhere deeper.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. – Proverbs 4:23 NLT

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. – Luke 6:45 NLT

The pure in heart will see God because they are living faithful lives, following God, and determining in their hearts to live for Him instead of themselves. This is the person who realizes his or her selfish tendencies and lays them at the feet of the cross, looking to Jesus Christ as an example of how to live and trusting in Jesus Christ for eternal life.

 

How can we live consistently pure in heart? I think there are at least 4 things that can be very beneficial, maybe even essential, to living as someone who is pure in heart:

1. Cultivate daily faithfulness.

Living pure in heart is not a one-time decision that can be over and done with one day and forgotten about the next. This must be a daily, moment-by-moment determination that Jesus Christ is Lord of one’s life. It is a daily recognition we are poor in spirit, mourn after our sin, and live in humility. The pure in heart are comforted because they shall see God.

 

2. Live in disciplined pursuit.

This is our “personal growth plan.” It must be something intentional and consistent. There’s that old adage, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” We need to make a plan to succeed and be disciplined to do it.

 

3. Be quick to confess and repent.

The pure in heart are not perfect in heart. Temptation and sin is still an unfortunate present reality while living on this earth, but confession and repentance (a turning away) of sin renews our relationship with God and brings healing and freedom. We should be quick to confess and repent, turning from sin toward God.

 

4. Live in community.

“No man is an island entire of itself” – John Donne.

We need each other. We need to live in intentional community for the help and healing that come through it. A person who is pure in heart is not living it alone, because it is, if not impossible, incredibly difficult to live pure in heart on our own.

 

 

Active Mercy

The first four timeless principles are more “inner” principles (poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness) ; the last four are the living out of those inner principles, or the outward signs of the inner change.

The poor in spirit recognizes his or her need for mercy and, because they have received mercy from God, strive to show mercy to others.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy – Matthew 5:7

Mercy is often talked about. It is talked about from the Old Testament to the New Testament in the Bible, to TV shows, movies, news programs, books, magazines, and person-to-person in struggles and triumphs. But what exactly is MERCY?

Mercy is usually shown with the attitude, “You give it first” or the expectation that if I show you mercy, you will show it in return. Selfish people don’t help and don’t show mercy unless something is in it for them. Jesus, as He usually did, upends this selfish, self-serving attitude and says in Matthew 5:43-47 that I should love those who won’t love me back and pray for those who mistreat me (not praying for them to be judged or God to take vengeance on them, but that Jesus would be merciful to them). Think of Jesus on the Cross. He asked God the Father to forgive the people who were putting Him to death. That is loving and praying for those who treat you wrongly.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end – Lamentations 3:22

Mercy is the same thing as lovingkindness, or hesed, which is literally “compassion in action.” Mercy is meeting people’s needs. It is not just FEELING compassion, but it is action-oriented in feeling. It is not sympathy, but actually lending a hand and helping out. “Mercy is giving food to the hungry, comfort to the bereaved, love to the rejected, forgiveness to the offender, companionship to the lonely” (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7, p. 190).

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved… – Ephesians 2:4-5

What is the “reward” for showing mercy? You will receive mercy from God. You showing mercy to others brings mercy from God. There is a reciprocity here that is only between God and human, not human to human. You or I may never receive mercy from another human being, but if we show mercy toward others, God will certainly reciprocate that and show mercy to us.

Whether others deserve it or not, show mercy. Actively live out mercy. See someone in need, and do what you can to meet that need even though you might be in need yourself. Show mercy because you have been shown mercy.

Remember that you are poor in spirit, that you NEED the mercy of God and, because He gives it to you, who is undeserving, you can give it to others even if they don’t deserve it. Live out mercy today.

Always Hungry

Pastor Ben's blog

I like food. And I like to eat pretty often. Really, eating comprises much of my thoughts throughout the day. When I wake up, the first thing I do is make breakfast and coffee. Usually it’s four eggs made either in omelet form with bacon bits or over medium with some toast or sausage links. It’s the most important meal of the day, so I have to start off on the right foot!

Lunch is one of those things that sometimes get lost in the craziness of the day, but even before lunch I get that mid-morning hunger coming about 10am. It’s time to snack! Then eat lunch, then snack some more before dinner. Taylor University ruined me for dinner, because every day right at 5:00pm on the dot I am ready to eat. And it’s like, if I don’t eat now, I’m going to get hangry. Usually I have…

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Happy are the Sad

Pastor Ben's blog

Every week it is my goal to release a blog post on the next part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The goal is that you and I would be able to live a little more like Him every day.

Following Jesus is no easy task. Jesus Himself even tells us to count the cost before following Him because we may lose family members, friends, jobs, homes, and even our lives for following Him.

This is part two of this famous sermon.  Jesus references nine different perspectives of people whom God blesses in Matthew 5:3-11. These character and conduct traits are most often called “The Beattitudes.” For the purpose of this blogging series, we will talk about these as: timeless principles.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. – Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn…a.k.a. Happy are the sad…its paradoxical.

There is…

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The Poor in Spirit

Pastor Ben's blog

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) is one of Jesus’ most famous teaching moments. Jesus takes the time here to talk about the character and conduct of those who follow Him as their Lord and Savior.

Following Jesus is no easy task. Jesus Himself even tells us to count the cost before following Him because we may lose family members, friends, jobs, homes, and even our lives for following Him.

Over the course of a few blog posts, we are going to look at the beginning of this famous sermon and see where blessings come from. Jesus references eight different perspectives of people whom God blesses in Matthew 5:3-11. These character and conduct traits are most often called “The Beattitudes.

Jesus begins talking about each perspectives with an pronouncement of “God blesses” (or “blessed are the” ESV). This kind of “blessed” is talking about “happiness because of divine favor.”…

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7 Leadership Lessons from the 2017 NCAA National Championship

I hope you had the chance to watch at least part of the great football game last night between Alabama and Clemson. It turned out to be one of the best college footballs I’ve seen, and exactly what a National Championship game should look like.

As I watched the game, I was struck by the amount of leadership lessons we can learn from one simple game of football. Below I share seven pieces of advice I gleaned as I watched the game. I hope they can be an encouragement and challenge to you today.

1. The little things make all the difference. 

In football, inches matter. The smallest amount of distance make some of the biggest differences in the game. Whether it’s getting a first down, a touchdown, a player dodging slightly to the side and getting extra yards, inches matter.

The same thing is true in life. Little things make a big difference. Daily faithfulness, daily discipline, is what will lead to big differences in the future. Do today what will take you to where you want to be tomorrow.

2. Discipline (or lack of) is revealed under pressure.

This game is the biggest stage in college football. Alabama and Clemson made it through the entire regular season, the playoff games, and reached the National Championship two years in a row.

What was obvious in the game is that each team was well-coached. A disciplined team will defeat an undisciplined team every time. This is because the undisciplined team will beat itself. When under the pressure of this kind of game, the disciple or lack of discipline, becomes obvious. Both teams had incredible discipline.

What daily discipline do you need to start this year in 2017? Your daily disciplines can be the difference between success and failure.

3. Adjustments are essential to success.

When you come into a football game, the team that makes the best adjustments will be the team who comes out on top. This year, that team was Clemson. They executed plays with great discipline, kept calm, and made the right adjustments on defense and offense to come out on top.

Adjustments are a necessary part of life. When things don’t work, we can’t give up, but we push on, making adjustments and growing in understanding. Making the right adjustments at the right time is key.

4. It’s not over until it’s over.

It looked like Alabama had this won. From the beginning they dominated the game. Until the fourth quarter. Clemson started to come back and the momentum shifted. BUT, just as it looked like Clemson was going to win, Alabama scored with very little time on the clock to go ahead in the game. Clemson determined the game was not over because they scored. They kept pushing, kept playing, and eventually made the right plays to get in the endzone and finish the game in regulation as the winners of the 2017 National Championship.

Whatever situation you’re in (life, business, relationships), it’s not over until it’s over. Broken relationships can be healed. Healthy relationships can be cultivated. New opportunities can be leveraged. Old habits can be forgotten and new habits begun. It’s not over until it’s over.

5. Sometimes you need a break

There are players from the bench, who didn’t start the game, that made huge differences in the outcome. As starters got tired or injured, their replacement from the bench came in and had a job to do.

We must keep in mind that we are not the Energizer bunny. We need a break. We need to allow someone else to take ownership at times so we can have a day off. Healthy leaders realize it is necessary to take a break now and then. It keeps you fresh and focused.

6. Winners take risks

The final drive of the game, as Deshaun Watson is slinging passes, Clemson is taking a risk. They could have played it safe and gone after a field goal to tie the game instead of a touchdown to win it. But they kept passing! There was a risk of interception, a risk of time running out, but they kept pushing and taking the risk. It definitely paid off!

Risks don’t always work out, which is what makes them risky. But winners know that it is hard to win long term without taking risks. Some risks are not worth taking, while others must be taken to move forward. Risk is a part of life and we must embrace it.

7. Leaders are resilient

Both teams were resilient until the very end. Clemson kept in the fight even after fumbling the ball multiple times. Alabama lost the lead, gave up the ball, but didn’t give up. They scored to get the lead back and never lost sight that the game is 60 minutes, not a second more or less.

No matter what set backs we face, what obstacles loom large in front, we must be resilient if we want to succeed. Push forward. Don’t let discouragement gain control. Push forward. Be resilient.

And then there were 3–Aliya’s birth story

Connie wanted to share Aliya’s birth story, so I told her she could write it on this blog :) Enjoy!

I love a good story, so thought I would write out the story of how our daughter arrived. I heard SO many women’s birth stories while I was pregnant and was always amazed at how each one was different, and how not one of the births went as expected!

Backing up a little bit to my feelings approaching the birth – well, they were not always positive. Of course we were excited to be parents, but I often felt like I wasn’t ready. When people asked if I just couldn’t wait to be done with pregnancy and to meet our little girl, I would often reply with ‘no, she can take her time! I’m not ready!

I loved looking at baby girl clothes and was excited about becoming a mom, but was also nervous about the delivery and overall had a feeling that the pregnancy was going so fast and I didn’t have enough time to do everything before our daughter arrived. I was happy with our current life and couldn’t wrap my head around the huge change that was about to take place!

In the weeks approaching our due date, Ben and I became very wary about when we might go into labor. I suspected that I might be overdue just because that seems to be the case with most first babies, but I got told nearly every day by co-workers and strangers alike that they didn’t think I would make it to my due date, so that was in my head as well.

The Monday (6 days) before my due date, I remember feeling… weird.

I texted Ben at the end of my workday saying that I was having constant Braxton Hicks contractions. I knew it wasn’t real labor, but my stomach was repeatedly tightening way more than usual.

I went grocery shopping after work, and bought a ton of food (each of my last few trips had been big because I never knew when my last trip before baby was going to be!!) and being overall distracted because I felt weird and wasn’t sure if I was in the beginning stages of labor. That whole evening I felt different, but couldn’t really pinpoint what it was. Then around 10 PM, I felt my first contraction in the shower, but thought it was just a fluke. I felt another contraction in bed at 10:30 and asked Ben to check the time. He promptly fell asleep, but I stayed awake as my contractions continued to show up about every half an hour.

It was somewhat surreal, and I can’t even completely remember what was going through my mind. I think I was trying to mentally review everything we had learned in birthing class, and trying to do the techniques I had learned to relax during contractions. Ben woke up around two or three, and took some time to process when I told him that I was pretty sure I was in labor. At that point, I was thinking I would probably be in labor for a long time and had read many stories about labor that started and stopped, so I told Ben I planned on walking our dog Molly and vacuuming the floor in the morning to keep labor progressing. (Spoiler alert: that didn’t end up happening.) :)

From that point on, Ben stayed awake and helped me through contractions, and we tried to get rest in between. Throughout the night, I remember the contractions being uncomfortable, but manageable. Right around 6AM, the contractions got really bad. They came more frequently, dropping from every 7 or 9 minutes to being less than 5 minutes apart, but weren’t consistent. I was trying to text my boss and my family, and it took me more than an hour to send the texts due to all the starting and stopping with the contractions coming on so fast!

I called the doctor to ask what I should do. I said my contractions weren’t a minute long, but were coming really fast and seemed inconsistent and difficult to time. The on-call doctor said they really like the contractions to be a minute long, and asked if I’d like to head into the office to have my progress checked. I remember being confused- I thought I was in active labor and felt way too uncomfortable for a visit to the doctor’s office, but now I was doubting myself!

Ben was supposed to coach his soccer team’s district game that day, so had to run some soccer equipment over to the school so the team would have it. I remember the contractions getting even worse, so it was difficult for me to move forward with brushing my teeth and getting dressed. I got a call from the regular medical staff I was working with asking if I’d like to come in to the office and get checked. I remember panting into the phone something like ‘heck no, we’ll see you at the hospital!

Even though we determined around 7 or 8 that we NEEDED to get to the hospital, we didn’t get there until 9- it was just so hard for me to do anything! My hospital bag wasn’t packed, so I remember Ben asking what he should put in it and me having trouble focusing on making any sort of decision. (Lesson learned for next time- I’ll have a bag packed far in advance!) ;)

We had taken a series of birthing classes called The Bradley Method to help prepare us for the labor & delivery process, and to prepare me to do the birth without any pain medication. Ben attended these classes too and was trained to be my ‘coach’ and help me through contractions. I remember telling Ben at home that I didn’t think I could do this, and that if I got to the hospital and was only 2 or 3 centimeters dilated, I’d have to get something for the pain. However, we got to Holland Hospital (finally) and found out I was 8 centimeters dilated! I was relieved to know the majority of it was already over and that I could deliver naturally as planned. It only seemed to be a few more contractions before I was ready to push. Our doctor broke my water and then the pushing began!

I pushed for 40 or so minutes, and then Aliya Joy Marshall was born at 10:20am, less than an hour and a half after getting to the hospital. She was 8 lbs, 6 oz, and 21 inches long!

The whole process seemed to go by so fast. I remember telling Ben during labor that we’re adopting the rest of our kids ;) but it’s true what they say- you really do forget about the pain after it’s over!

img_4907Already I’ve learned so much as a parent. First of all, thankfully, all my feelings of unreadiness and not wanting the pregnancy to end disappeared when Aliya arrived. All my fears about sleepless nights, baby blues, and not being ready became irrelevant when I met the little girl that had been inside me for the last 9 months! I also quickly learned that I could no longer control the image I put forth to other people– when Aliya came, my house wasn’t guest-ready, my hospital bag wasn’t packed so I left the hospital in an old t-shirt and sweatpants (not the cutesy homecoming I had pictured), and I couldn’t control if Aliya was peacefully sleeping or crying her head off when guests came.

I’ve learned I have to be okay with my house being imperfect and slightly messy, as now I choose to spend my time snuggling Aliya rather than making my house as clean as I’d like it.

I’ve even gained a new perspective on God’s perfect and steady love for us, as I aim to love my daughter the same amount whether she’s smiling at me in the daytime or won’t stop fussing in the middle of the night.

So, that’s our birth story! More than anything, Ben and I are thankful that our baby is healthy and happy. Now we’re looking forward to all the fun and challenges that await us in parenthood!

A Chance to Lead

Politics naturally divide. It’s Republican v Democrat v Independent and on and on. Looking at the numbers of votes, our country is very divided. Many millions didn’t want Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. Many millions didn’t want Hillary Rodham Clinton as President of the United States. 

Whether you like it or not, whether you voted for him or not, Donald J Trump IS the President Elect of the United States of America. 

Whatever feelings that brings up in you, whether fear, excitement, dread, expectancy, hatred, hope… The fact is that Donald J. Trump is going to be our president. 

As American citizens, it is our responsibility to allow him the opportunity to lead. We may not agree with him being our president, we may not be excited about it, but even Hillary Clinton admitted that we have to give him a chance to lead. 

Our country is deeply divided. We are divided across political parties, across religious beliefs, across races and socioeconomic statuses. And yet the very name of our country bears the word “united.”

One leader said this: “Whoever wins the presidency, half the country will have disagreed. Wise leaders never mistake wins for unanimous agreement.” – Rob Cizek. This is so true. We naturally won’t all agree on the elected official, but protesting and riots won’t change the outcome. 

There is so much hate, on both ends of the spectrum. Can we pursue something better? Can we pursue peace? Can we extend a hand of love and kindness across the aisle?

It is now the responsibility and opportunity of America’s citizens to once again be united. That is the challenge. And challenging it will be.

A reflection on Halloween

Happy Halloween! Whether you celebrate it or not, you can’t get away from Halloween. The candy in the stores, the spiders and cobwebs and skeletons in shop windows, people all over the place wearing costumes… it is a holiday that many do celebrate.

Regardless of the origins of Halloween and all the opinions on both sides about whether we should celebrate or not, there’s something intriguing about it.

As I was thinking about it today, there is something about dressing up in a costume, putting on a mask, and pretending to be a superhero or villain or Walking Dead zombie that gets people excited (there’s also that guarantee of tons of free candy!). What is it about dressing up to be someone or something else that excites?

I would love to be a superhero. When I was a kid, I would dress up as a Ninja Turtle or Superman or a Power Ranger, because I thought they were awesome and I wanted to be one! I still love superheroes and secretly wish the Ninja Turtles were real. But, sadly, they aren’t.

Maybe I’m overthinking things, and that’s very possible (I often do), but I wonder if there is something inherent in our psyche that strives to be someone we aren’t. We want to perform better, be more popular, have a better job or house, be better at a sport or instrument, be a more talented singer or businessperson. There’s a constant strive for something other than what we are right now.

Is Halloween the only time we put on a costume or mask and pretend to be something we aren’t? I don’t think so. We do it when we hang out with our friends or talked to someone on the phone or tell someone about our work. If you’re anything like me, we tend to overemphasize our strengths and exaggerate the good parts of our lives and personalities to make ourselves feel better about the not-so-good parts.

But the cool thing about life is if we open up to someone, we take that mask or costume or false sense of self off, and are truly vulnerable with someone else, it completely changes things.

It’s almost counter-intuitive, but when we share an insecurity with someone we trust, it can actually help increase our security in who God has created us to be. Sharing a shortcoming or insecurity, being vulnerable, can actually help strengthen and ground us in who we are as God’s creation.

On this Halloween, who is someone you trust that you can share something with? We started a new series on the life of Joseph this week at church (Joseph: Live Differently). Living differently is the point here, too.

We hold so much in and stumble on alone, when we could thrive in honest, loving, God-honoring, Christ-centered community. What’s holding you back? Let it go and push forward. Do something a little different today.