Is Peace Even Possible?

We live in a world of increasing hostilities and aggression. It’s manifest, not only between countries and ethnic groups, but more and more between groups and individuals in the same country and even the same neighborhoods.

It used to be that while people had differences of opinions about a wide variety of issues, actual hostilities were reserved for the concerns that fundamentally affected us in powerful ways. In ways that had the potential to change the basic fabric and structure of our lives.

Somewhere in the post WW II world that all changed. And the speed of change has been propelled at increasing rates by our addiction to social media.

We now live in an age of instant hostility. It takes little to set people against each other.

We seem to take offense so easily and believe that it is our fundamental right to stand up for our cause by any means necessary – even it that involves hostilities, either physical or verbal.

As Christians, how are we to navigate a culture of hostility?

The answer is Peace. Unfortunately, unless you belong to one of the historic peace churches, it’s an issue that we hear so little about.

But Is Peace Even Possible?

Here I’m addressing the issue on a personal level. Is peace possible between people? Between coworkers. Between church members. Between neighbors.

The first thing we have to understand is that the issue of Peace is something that God takes very seriously. He is a god of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33) and He is deeply interested that we be people of peace. A quick check of the Bible, especially the New Testament, will reveal many references to the subject.

The next thing that we need to know is that peace is a responsibility laid firmly on the shoulders of every follower of Christ.

We’re taught to Pray for Peace (Psalm 122:6); make peace (Matthew 5:9); live in peace as much as you can (Romans 12:18); let God’s peace be the ruling factor in our lives (Colossians 3:15); be filled with peace (Romans 15:13); strive to live in peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14); pursue peace (1 Peter 3:11).

If you’re waiting for peace based on the actions of the other person or group of people, you’ve missed the point. God wasn’t talking to them – He was talking to you.

But here’s the real issue: When we ask the question, Is Peace Even Possible? we are asking the wrong question.

The right question is, Does God Want us to be People of Peace?

And the answer to that question is Yes.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Evil Will Be No More

There are certain place names that have been seared into our collective consciousness. Names we will never forget. Names that provoke instant, dark images in our minds.

Auschwitz, The Gulag, Chernobyl, Sandy Hook, Shanksville.

Add one more name: Tree of Life Synagogue.

You don’t have to be Jewish to be nauseated by what happened this past Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, PA. Innocent people killed simply because of their nationality and faith.

We forget how strong hate is.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, writing against the backdrop of the Civil War reminds us of the power of hate in his poem Christmas Bells, later made into the song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. (I especially like this dramatized version of the song that you can listen to here.)

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

If we stop to only look at the evil in our world this will be the verse we sing – over and over again.

But there’s more than just the power of evil in this world. And that’s the story of Christmas. Jesus came to defeat the powers of evil and in a strange twist of events did just that – not at Bethlehem but at Calvary (Colossians 2:13-15).

Longfellow seemed to understand that. He concluded his poem with these words:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

No God is not asleep. He knows what is going on in our world. He knows the evil. He knows the hurting. And someday, in His time, The Right will prevail.

We have that to look forward to. Not because Longfellow said it, but because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob said it.

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days . . .

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,

And their spears into pruning hooks;

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

Neither shall they learn war anymore.

(Isaiah 2:2, 4)

Someday the Messiah will come and The Righteous One will sit on the Throne of David and there will be peace (Isaiah 9:7).

And that Righteous One will make sure that Evil will be no more.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Being Committed to Peace

In the Adult Bible Fellowship class that I teach on Sundays at our church we’re in a series of lessons titled Walking Like Jesus Walked. The idea is that as Christians, if we’re really going to claim the name we need to walk the walk.

As I was preparing my lessons it dawned on me that before we can walk like Jesus walked we have to think like Jesus thought. Our actions come out of our thought processes. What we do is birthed in a thought – no matter how fleeting or inadvertent the thought is.

The section of scripture that I am teaching is Matthew chapters 5-7 or what we normally refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. While this section is undoubtedly Jewish in nature and an argument can be made that it relates specifically to the Millennial Kingdom time period, it seems reasonable to argue that if Jesus expected these characteristics (poor in spirit, meek etc) of His followers at any time period in history then He expects them for all of His followers at every time period in history. And if we are going to walk like Jesus walked this is how to do it.

But what about thinking like Jesus thought? The more I reflected on it, the more it became apparent that this same passage gives us some great insights into the thought patterns of the Son of God. We can discover how Jesus thought by studying His teachings and the Sermon on the Mount is one of the great sources for His teaching.

Let me give you one example. When Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9), He is showing us just how important the concept of peace is in the mind of God. Too often this statement is used in the context of war; equivalent to pacifist. But its primary application is not to nations but to people and how we are to live our lives every day. We are to be people who make peace.

The word for peacemakers is only used here in the New Testament. It has the idea of action, doing something (making peace), even of committing our lives to something (peace). God wants His people to commit their lives to living in peace. Peace in their life. Peace in their home. Peace in their relationships. Peace in how they think. Peace in how they speak. Even peace in how they drive! Peace is to be a dominate attribute in our lives because it is dominate in the heart of God. Five times in the New Testament God is referred to as the God of peace. That’s just who He is and it’s who He wants us to be. The words Christian and peacemaker are to be synonymous.

One last thought. Living in peace sometimes depends on other people. That is, it is possible for someone to rob you of your peace. God saw that coming so He told us how to handle it. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). God is not going to hold you accountable when someone else destroys your peace. You just have to do everything you can to make peace. You have to be committed to peace.

When our thoughts and actions are dominated by peace so that people know us as people of peace then we will be known as sons and daughters of God.

Now the God of peace be with you all. (Romans 15:33).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Godly Response to an Evil Act

Periodically something happens in our world that is so evil, so egregious that it is almost impossible to comprehend. It happened again last week when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky and all 298 people on board perished – innocent people who had nothing to do with the conflict raging on the ground. Since that terrible moment when the plane exploded in midair the world has been engaged in finger-pointing and blame.

But let the world go – there’s a much bigger issue here for followers of Jesus. A much more personal issue. The question for Christians is how should we respond to such a tragedy? Do we simply ignore it because it did not affect us? Do we acknowledge it with a quick prayer and then file it in the back of our memories? What should our response be?

I want to share some thoughts with you that I originally shared over three years ago on the occasion of another unfathomable tragedy.

The response of Christians – followers of Jesus – to any tragedy should involve several things. First we need to recognize the grief of those who have lost family members and pray for God’s grace and strength for them in their time of need. Psalm 9:9 says The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. In John 14:27 Christ said, Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Pray that those who were impacted by this tragedy will look to Christ for strength and for peace that only He can give them.

Secondly, we should ask God to bring good out of what appears to be an extremely evil situation. While we can’t begin to understand how God can do that, we know that He can. The Bible teaches that while God is not responsible for evil (James 1:13), He can use it for good (Genesis 50:20). Let’s ask God to do exactly that.

Thirdly, we need to affirm that this tragedy is the result of sin. The debate in the days and weeks ahead will no doubt include arguments on both sides related to who should take the responsibility for this heinous act. No matter who is to blame when you get to the bottom you will find sin. Sin is the reason people lie, cheat, steal, and kill. Some will try to blame God by using the old argument, if God is all powerful He could have prevented this tragedy. In one sense that is true – God is all powerful and He could have prevented it. However God has also granted us personal responsibility and we will all answer to God for our actions. We have the choice to either act in righteous ways or in sinful ways. When we choose sin over righteousness the natural and logical outcome is something terrible. We should not be surprised. Let’s put the blame where the blame belongs – on the sinfulness of man.

Fourthly we ought to pray for those who perpetrated this terrible crime. They too need God’s forgiveness. I know that is a difficult concept for many, even for Christians to accept. But this gets right to the heart of the gospel and that is that God’s grace is sufficient for all sin – no matter what the sin. It’s not the degree of sin that is the issue in the gospel, it is the degree of grace and God’s grace is greater than any sin you can commit (Romans 5:20).

Finally this tragedy should make us even more committed to sharing God’s love. We have no way of knowing the spiritual condition of those who were involved in this disaster, but there is a good chance that they have never heard the gospel. This will not be the last tragic event to impact our country and the next may be closer to home. But even apart from tragedies, people die all around us every day – people who need to hear about Christ. We need to recommit ourselves to the task of the gospel.

The Bible warns that in the days before the return of Christ our world will grow increasingly violent (2 Timothy 3:1ff). We need to respond in ways that are increasingly godly.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

I’m Tired of Easy Answers!

I don’t know when it happened but somewhere in the past of Christianity we began to look for easy answers to the complex issues of life. How often has someone said to you, when you were in the middle of a spiritual struggle – Prayer changes things or God will give you peace or Just Trust God or Just Believe. Maybe you hear the echoes of your own voice here. We have reduced the struggles of our faith to a series of clichés. To sound bites.

All of the above statements, and others, have an element of truth in them and perhaps that is why we find some comfort when we repeat them. But they are not the entire truth – there is so much more and that is why they ultimately do not satisfy. A partial truth can never be the answer to the spiritual struggles of life.

I’ve already addressed the issue of trusting/believing God in my post of January 27, 2014, The Problem With Faith, but what about prayer and peace?

It is true that prayer can change things – but it’s not always the case. And sometimes we find peace but at other times we just don’t have any peace. Why? Because those are easy answers.

Prayer really isn’t about changing things, it’s about getting to know God. What most Christians mean by prayer changing things is, “God did what I wanted him to do.” As if prayer was a button to be pushed to release exactly what they wanted from the vending machine. Prayer is not a button to be pushed; it’s a relationship to be pursued.

Prayer does ‘work,’ but it works very differently than we’d like. It still ‘works’: When we can’t trace out any direct result from our prayer. When the opposite of what we prayed for happens. In those moments when we feel very distant from God. When we bang down the door of heaven for years and are not sure anything is going on up there at all.

There are scores of people inside and outside the church whose spirits are crushed because they prayed (fervently) and: They didn’t get the job. Their mom died of cancer. Their child was born without a heartbeat. They ended up in a car crash that left them permanently disabled. Prayer doesn’t ‘work’ because I got what I wanted and they didn’t.

The parade of saints across the centuries would have been shocked to see prayer reduced to God-doing-what-I-asked-him-to-do-when-I-asked-him-to-do-it. God is not a puppy to be trained or a chef in the kitchen who prepares food to suit our every whim. He is sovereign.

As Richard Foster says: For those explorers in the frontiers of faith, prayer was no little habit tacked on to the periphery of their lives; it was their lives. It was the most serious work of their most productive years. Prayer—nothing draws us closer to the heart of God. Do things happen supernaturally when we pray? Well, yes they do. But often in ways we cannot understand or even trace out.

I think Christians can take consolation in the fact that when we pray, we often don’t know what to pray for or even how to pray, yet the scriptures tell us the Holy Spirit will translate the prayer into something better than we could phrase in the moment.

So pour your heart out to God. Pray about the things the scripture says are close to God’s heart. And when something ‘goes your way,’ be grateful and offer it back to the God who gave it to you.

And when things don’t go your way, understand that God is still very much in control and very much loves you. Just because God is silent doesn’t mean God is absent.
(from Carey Nieuwhof, Pastor at Connexus Community Church near Toronto, Canada).

Another example where we need more than easy answers is the area of peace. I wrote about this last week in a post titled Is it Really Possible to Have Peace? Let me just add this to what I wrote there. God promised peace to His followers (John 14:27) and He told us to let peace be the ruling force of our lives (Colossians 3:15). But too often we glibly throw out the line to the hurting soul – God will give you peace. Only that’s just half the answer. The other half is that God will give us peace when we begin to live in what we might call the way of peace (see last week’s blog for a more complete explanation). Having peace in our lives hinges on living a life worthy of peace. You can’t expect the result without the effort.

Make no mistake about it God has answers for our problems – they just aren’t easy answers. The problem is that life is complex and we can’t throw easy answers at complex issues. In addition to that Christianity itself is complex. God’s way of doing things is often hard and difficult and causes some messy situations for us. Don’t get even with the person who hurt you – be a blessing to them (Romans 12:19-20). Don’t hate your enemies – love them (Matthew 5:44). Don’t try to avoid trials – rejoice in them (James 1:2).

The truth is that Christianity can’t be reduced to a series of clichés. Whenever you reduce our faith to sound bites it cheapens the Christian life. Do you really want a faith that is that easy, that simplistic?

Don’t look for the easy answers. And please don’t offer them to someone who is struggling with life. Get into the complexity of the Christian life. Learn what it means to pray. Learn how you can have peace. The work will enrich your spiritual life and make the struggle worth the effort.

Is it Really Possible to Have Peace?

I was drawn to this statement in the Bible; and let the peace of God rule in your hearts (Colossians 3:15). We live in a world of conflict and turmoil, not only on a mega scale but more importantly for us, on a personal level. Let’s admit it – our lives are more often chaotic than peaceful.

Yet as Christians we are told, not just to have God’s peace, not just to live in God’s peace but to let God’s peace rule our lives. That means that God’s peace is to direct our lives, to control our lives. This particular word also has the idea of being the umpire in our lives. When we are faced with circumstances that have the potential to send us into an emotional, spiritual tailspin, we are to let God’s peace act as the umpire; to say yes or no; to determine our actions. There’s no question how it (He) will rule every time.

But that’s the theoretical/theological. What about the practical? What do we need to do so that God’s peace is the directing force in our lives, especially in times of personal conflict? The context gives us some guidance.

First we need to understand that as Christians we have to handle life in a radically different way. Verses 8-9 tell us how we are not to respond to life – with anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language and lying, while verses 12-14 tell us how we are to respond: put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love. Wow! How hard is that going to be? Very.

Handling life with mercy, kindness, humility, patience and forgiveness won’t be easy and we will often fail. That’s why God included this encouragement in the Bible. If we always responded to life this way or if it was an easy thing to do, we wouldn’t need to be reminded. It’s precisely because we are prone to fail that God encourages us to try harder.

I can hear the objections already – so-and-so won’t let up, they continue to make my life miserable. That’s where Romans 12:18 comes into play; if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. You won’t answer for how they handle life – only for how you handle it. You do the right thing no matter what they do. That’s all God expects.

Back to Colossians 2. My second observation is this: Having the peace of God in our lives is a choice. Notice the text; and let the peace of God rule in your hearts. It’s a command. Whenever the Bible gives us a command we have the option of either doing it or not doing it. It’s our choice. You choose when you decide to live in verses 12-14 instead of verses 8-9.

That brings me to my final observation. It’s the Word of God that the Spirit of God uses in our lives to help us live in a way that results in peace. Verse 16 brings this out when it says; let the Word of Christ dwell in you abundantly in all wisdom. It’s not a matter of picking up the Bible whenever we face conflict and reading a chapter or two (although that’s not a bad idea). It’s being so immersed in the Word of God that when conflict arises we respond in a Godly way even if it takes us awhile to get there. When you do that you know that you are responding in all wisdom.

Is it really possible to have peace in life? The answer is Yes – but we have to approach life God’s way. Will it be easy? No. Will it require hard work? Yes. Will it mean that we have to reorient the way we think? Probably. Will it be worth it? You decide.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve