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).

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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.

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.

 

How can we be known for our love?

Jesus says in John 13:34-5:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As followers of Christ, I think we are called to be known more for what we are for than what we are against. I’ve written about this before, but I think it cannot be overstated how important this is. Too much of the world knows the church for a religious, legalistic center who is against many things. That’s not what Jesus was known for. That’s not what His disciples were known for.

They preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified rather than a complete set of do’s and dont’s. The young adult group from Calvary is in New York City right now, and were able to visit Hillsong NYC on Sunday evening. While there, one thing was very clear. They did not take political or societal stances. They stood on the side of Jesus and gave an invitation for people to surrender their lives, their pride, their selfishness, and give it all to Jesus Christ.

There were homosexuals and transgenders in the crowd feeling loved enough to show up to church. And they heard the full Truth of the Word of God, that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. The tone was grace and truth. We need a Savior, His name is Jesus, and He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

How can we be known for our love for others?

The key is to love God.

Love Him first and most.

The more we love God the more we will love others. The more we love God, the more He gives us the desires of our hearts.

I think that the more we love God, the more we will love others because we will love them as God loves them.

We will see them as God sees them; we will want what is best for them, which is not always what they think is best for them but what is actually best for them.

We’ll be determined to not give up on them, but will constantly be willing and able to show grace, love, mercy and forgiveness.

If we love God and pursue Him, we will become more like Him. If we want to be known and defined by our love for others, we must first love God.

Our love for others is not blanket acceptance or approval of actions, but it is all-encompassing, truthful, grace-filled love. The same type of love that God has shown us we are called to show others.

What do you need to do today to start being known for the love of Christ that is evident in your daily actions?

Can we remain unshaken?

We are reading through the Bible in a year together as a youth group, and we have finally made it to the book of the Psalms. Reflecting this morning on the reading in Psalm 16, one particular passage stuck out to me. There are different times and different seasons where certain verses or passages or even whole books of the Bible seem to impact a little more than they had before; they seem more applicable to the time. Here’s the verse:

“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8 ESV).

David had a foundation that was unshakeable.

“Because the Lord Himself was the main focus of David’s attention and satisfaction, he knew no one would shake him in any major way from his stability in life” (https://lumina.bible.org/bible/Psalms+16).

I found this encouraging in the wake of all the violence that continues to get so much prime time media coverage. It is a daily occurrence. More police officers have been shot and killed this week. There was a truck rampage attack in Nice, France. There was an axe rampage on a train in Germany. There have been bombings, shootings, threats, robberies, and many other things that have not even been reported on. And to top it all off, Pokemon Go is getting almost more news time than some of these.

Then there is this whole “politics” and “election” thing going on. The Republican National Convention just seems to be a joke. They have perfectly set themselves up to be the laughing stock of our nation and have walked straight into the jokes seemingly unaware? Melania Trump giving Michelle Obama’s speech, a room full of white people talking about race problems, and on the list unfortunately goes. Many popular TV Talk Show hosts and TV personalities are ridiculing and making fun of the Republican party, and it looks like Hillary is a shoe-in to win.

Wherever you stand on the issues, I think we need to remember to keep the main thing the main thing. The right perspective on these issues can eliminate anxiety and worry. We know the One who is in control. We know the One who created the heavens and the earth; the One to whom “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). The One who “changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding…” (Daniel 2:21).

If the Lord Himself is the main focus of our attention and satisfaction, we can know with confidence that whoever is elected, whatever happens in the world, cannot shake us from the stability of our foundation. Let’s build our house on the Rock, instead of the shifting, sinking sand of societal opinion which changes without warning and is as fickle as the weather in West Michigan.

Put your hope and focus on the right thing. A political candidate will not fix everything. A new law, or series of laws, will not fix everything. New mandates will not destroy everything we hold precious. It will, however, make it more difficult to be a bold, outspoken, true follower of Jesus Christ. But hey, we can have confidence because “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4) and, as Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Are we able to have a conversation with someone outside of our “group”?

“This splintering and polarization of American culture has made it more difficult than ever to have a good conversation, especially about faith,” says David Kinnaman (President of the Barna Group).

I recently read the article quoted from above, and just had to write a post about it. Barna is a research powerhouse, and one of their recent studies found that evangelical Christians “have a particularly difficult time talking to those outside their group.” In fact, the research found that 9 in 10 (87%) would find it difficult to have a natural or normal conversation with someone from the LGBT community, while only 6 in 10 (58%) from the LGBT community felt the same way toward having a natural or normal conversation with someone from the evangelical community.

Reading this, it struck a chord in my heart. Jesus consistently, often, controversially spent much time with people outside of his “group.” He spent so much time with people outside the religious community that the religious community questioned him on the topic:

“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'” – Matthew 9:10-11 ESV

The Pharisees, the religious elite, could not understand why Jesus went outside of his “group” and hung out with them, ate with them, valued them and cared about them. Jesus had no difficulty having natural and normal conversations with people very different than Himself, and actually people outside of His group wanted to be in His group because of the way He treated them. He was contagious to be around. Why aren’t followers of Christ today contagious to be around? There are certainly many reasons, including because we believe and state emphatically that Jesus Christ is the only way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

However, I think one of the biggest reasons Christians are not contagious to be around is because we can be harsh. We can be off-putting and sometimes just downright mean. Truth without grace and love can simply be mean. We must balance truth with grace and love. We must extend love. We must allow people to belong before they believe. We must allow them to be in our community before the Holy Spirit convicts and they are converted from their old life of sin and death to a new life of freedom and life.

This post can by no means deal with all of the varying viewpoints and all the theological, social, political, and relational intricacies of what it means to love the lost, but it is something we must do. We cannot hold the world to the behavioral standards of a Christ-follower because they are not Christ-followers. The only way to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20) is to go into the brokenness, go into the lostness, with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Loving the world so much that we can’t help but proclaim with love and compassion the necessity of repentance of sin and belief in Jesus Christ, while at the same time journeying with them as they work to figure this out and understand the implications of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let’s be the light and the salt, not the judgment. Let’s bring Christ with us wherever we go, living out our faith and changing the world around us as we are known for Who we are for rather than what we are against.

What’s the big deal about that?

Recently I was listening to A Minute With Maxwell, and he had a pretty convicting word on there. Have you ever listened to John Maxwell? He puts out a daily video where he talks for a minute or two about a certain word that someone has submitted. Obviously, some days are more applicable than others, and the one I just listened to was one of those things that makes you internally be like, “Oh man…that one hurt. Why’d I have to listen to that? Now I need to do something about it…”

The word of the day was “PROCRASTINATION..” pardon my French. It’s almost a bad word, isn’t it? This word has made up so much of my life that we are like old friends. When I think back to high school or college, those all-nighters, or cramming before a test, I was pretty good at procrastination. I would wait until the last possible minute and then do something.

ProcrastinationBut the problem was, when I procrastinated, the quality of my work suffered pretty heavily. I was not doing things well, and I was not doing things with much investment of myself. One of the biggest deals here is this: “When we procrastinate, we sacrifice quality.” This applies to studying for a test, writing a paper, working on a project at work, preparing for a lesson, or developing a product or giving a service for a customer or company. The longer we wait, the more rushed we will be when that particular thing is due.

Another big deal of this is what John Maxwell said: “What I have learned about procrastination is that it never works and that there is never a convenient moment.” So how do we combat it? He goes on and says, “People who are highly successful have disciplined themselves, and they’ve conquered the habit of procrastination, and they know the power of initiating. Do it now.”

NowSee, when procrastination hits, things just build up and build up and build up, and we’re playing catch up but we never really catch up. What if today we decided to stop procrastinating and start doing? Start with something small, go and do it. And then work your way up to some of the bigger things you’ve wanted to do. Maybe it’s writing a book or starting a business. Start somewhere. The end of procrastination in your life could turn into a very big deal.

‘Round and ’round we go

There is a question that came up a few weeks ago that got me to thinking. Here’s the question: “How can I be okay with continued struggles and suffering?”

This question is a tough one. So you have a new relationship with Jesus, you are starting to read your Bible, you think maybe this is it, maybe you’re done with sin and you can move on, move forward in your life. Until temptation comes and you sin again. Ever been there?

Being a Christian, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, does not guarantee or even promise perfection while still living on this earth. Instead, there will be continued struggles, continued suffering, and continued failure in the face of temptation. How is that possible? Is that normal? How can I be okay with this?

Thinking back to Christmastime, do you realize that Jesus becoming a baby automatically put God’s seal of approval on a slow process? The angel announced salvation to the shepherds, but what they saw in the manger was a normal baby boy—a baby who needed time to grow up. It would take 30 years for Jesus to begin the earthly ministry that He came to do. When considering the life of a Christian, patience and process are not things we enjoy hearing about.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus Christ, in His forgiveness and grace and method, uses a patient process to make us new. We are transformed in an instant, into a new creation in Jesus Christ. We are reborn and receive the free gift of salvation. The Holy Spirit immediately comes to live in us, guiding and directing us. But, this is a new thing. It will take time to get used to, time to figure it out, and time to grow and heal and live out of the newness.

Wherever you are in your life, whether you have put your faith in Jesus or not, we are all in process. My prayer for you, if you haven’t put your faith in Jesus, is that as you move forward in the process of life, you are moving closer and closer to Jesus. I pray that you would come to know Him as your personal Lord and Savior. It is the most incredible thing you will ever experience, and the best and wisest decision you could ever make. If you already have put your faith in Jesus, I pray that you would be encouraged to know that the struggle is real, and doesn’t end until we reach heaven. Know that sin is temporary, God is forever. While on the earth, we will have trouble, we will face temptation, but God is good, God is full of forgiveness, and as time goes on, God continues to reform our hearts and minds, our desires and eventually our desire for sin decreases because of the increase in our desire for more of God.

What’s the value of experience?

There are some things that I would rather read about than personally experience. For example, I recently read a very moving blog about a widower who had removed his ring, and the process of that. I don’t ever want to have to experience that.

Yet there are other things in life that I desperately want to experience. They are things for which mere words cannot describe well enough. I would love to climb a mountain, to take an Alaskan cruise, to write a book, maybe even run a marathon. These are things that reading about or seeing pictures of is not good enough. They are things I want to experience. They are things that I know today I need to take steps toward doing in my life, or else it may just be too late by the time I get around to it.

Here’s a quote I read recently about “experience”:

“Experience is more than a great teacher, it is a great resume that qualifies all of us to make judgments, decisions, and choices that we can trust and that others can trust. Even our failures can occur with passion and confidence because we know they are the fruit of our previous self, the evidence of our unknowing, the mistakes we need to make in order to know we’ve made a mistake, the necessary preface to new insights and awarenesses.”

What is something that you maybe have read about or seen pictures of that you want to experience? Why not start taking steps today to help that come true in your life? Obviously, these are not sinful experiences being talked about here, but experiences that glorify and honor God and help us to fully experience joy and fulfillment in life. Maybe it’s experiencing a new job, taking a trip, going skydiving, or giving more than 10% to your church and trusting God in that.

Experience as teacherWhatever it might be for you, experience is a great teacher. We learn things by doing that we can never learn by reading or hearing about. So go out and experience something, and learn from it. Do something out of your comfort zone. Share Christ. Stop someone and pray for them right then and there. Add value to someone’s life by going out of your way to be kind and caring. Give a listening ear.

Even in failure we can experience a learning moment and move forward to new insights and awarenesses. What experiences can you make happen today to better your life and someone else’s? Don’t let anything hold you back. Go and do!