Peace – The Fruit of the Spirit (part 4)

The third fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 is peace.

For followers of Jesus, there is a vertical element to peace and a horizontal. The vertical involves our peace with God. In Romans 5:1, Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul went on to remind us that without Jesus, we stand as enemies of God, or “children of wrath” as he would say in Ephesians 2.

Enemies and wrath are two words that denote the opposite of peace. But by bringing about forgiveness of our sins, we move from being enemies against God to children of God–a movement to peace. And this a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, using the good news of Jesus to bring our hearts to spiritual life.

The horizontal element of peace is with others. In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Then, in Romans 12:16-18, Paul wrote, “Live in harmony with one another… If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Our natural inclinations lead us away from this. We get hurt and we want to hurt others. We get offended and we want to lash out. But the commands still stand to seek peace. This requires an act of the Spirit, helping us to see other people in a new way.

If we meet someone and they also are a follower of Jesus, then they are our brother or sister–a part of the same, big, eternal family. If we meet someone and they are not a follower of Jesus, then they are fellow human beings in need of Jesus. It may very well be through our witness that they come to know Jesus, but that witness is greatly hindered if we act like their enemies.

Being peacemakers and seeking peace with others won’t mean they’ll always want peace with us. But with the Spirit’s work in our hearts, we can still strive to be at peace with others because we are at peace with God. So, let us pray for a greater reality of peace in our lives.

Next time we’ll take a look at the fruit of patience.

All scripture quotes taken from the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).

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Eternal Peace (a meditation)

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. ~ Isaiah 11:6

We dream of peace in an unpeaceful world (at least we should). We know well that sense of lack of peace—not just personal times of turmoil, but global turmoil. Especially in an age when we can read about or hear about murders, persecutions, and terrorist attacks at home as well as the far reaches of the world in an instant with just the click of a few buttons. A lack of peace dominates global news.

Yet thousands of years ago the Bible prophesied of a King who would bring an end to violence, wars, and hate, and usher in an eternity of true peace.

Isaiah 11 is one of these prophecies. Isaiah spoke about one who would come from the line of King David. The Spirit will be upon this King, the fear of the Lord will be his delight, and he will judge in perfect righteousness. Under his rule, natural enemies will be at peace within each other’s presence.

Isaiah 11:9 says, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

We know this prophecy points forward to Jesus’ eternal reign because part of it is repeated in Isaiah 65, where we read: “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” (65:25, cf. 11:6, 9). That section of Isaiah 65 begins with the promise, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (65:17). This calls us to think ahead to the glimpse of eternity in Revelation 21&22.

As perfect, eternal peace is coming, so Jesus says to us today: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons and daughters of God” (Matthew 5:9). The King calls his followers to mimic him in peacemaking. We strive for this as we seek to reconcile people to God and people with other people.

Will we see every attempt at this succeed? No, for sin will still corrupt and bring division, hatred, and war, until Jesus comes back. But that doesn’t give us an excuse to not try. Personal, familial, community, and global peacemaking should be our aim today as citizens of the kingdom of eternal peace.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Saying ‘Yes’ in a World of ‘No’ (pastor’s blog)

noRecently my town decided to graffiti its own Main Street sidewalks with the message: no bicycles or skateboards. I’m sure the intention is safety. People walk in and out of the shops and storefronts, and you don’t want anyone young or old to be taken out by a person on a bicycle. But it made me think of two things: (1) perhaps there is a better way to state the message, like a nice looking sign that reads for the safety of others, please walk your bicycles or skateboards on these sidewalks; and (2) how swift we are to shout No! even in church, and maybe we shouldn’t be.

Of course, we get no ingrained into our minds at an early age. Children learn to talk by mimicking those who talk to them. Often no is one of the first words a child learns to say, in part because we yell it at them so often. And again, our intentions are noble—we want our children to be safe and not running into the road or pulling books from the shelf down upon their heads or sticking fingers or other objects into the tempting little holes that deliver electricity to us.

The Bible even has plenty of no. If you read the Ten Commands in Exodus 20, eight of them contain the phrase “do not.” Yet something changed whenever a certain expert in the law asked Jesus about the greatest commandment. Jesus didn’t quote a do not, rather he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40, ESV).

Jesus turned the do not into a do—negatives into positives. This isn’t to say that when you read through the New Testament you won’t find not and no scattered throughout various commands. You do, but you tend to find them couched heavily within a whole bunch of do (take Romans 12 or Ephesians 4, for example).

The ethic for the Christian is that we are free from sin and the law and free to live for God. We still have to have the occasional not thrown in because our old nature of sin still clings to us kicking and screaming and trying to drag us down with its last gasps. But with hearts free to love God, we are free to pursue and free to follow and free to do.

Sometimes people talk about the church and Christians being known more for what we’re against than what we’re for. Perhaps this is because we get more caught up in running from the old than running towards the new. It’s time that we change that.

Take Galatians 5:22-23 for example: “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law” (NLT).

May we be known for love—for self-sacrifice, serving others, and seeking their best. May we be known for joy—for true happiness that rests in God, his goodness, and his grace. May we be known for peace—for seeking to reconcile people to God and to each other, being voices of grace and unity when we face bitterness and division. May we be known for patience—for setting our own wills and timelines aside that we might encourage others along in the journey with Jesus.

May we be known for kindness—for reaching out to others to extend to them grace in friendships. May we be known for goodness—for reflecting God’s character in everything we do. May we be known for faithfulness—for staying true to God and being there for others in a world where it’s so easy to walk away and not look back. May we be known for gentleness—for reaching out to the hurting and troubled and offering a hand to those in need. May we be known for self-control—for keeping ourselves in check by delighting in the ways of God above the passions of the flesh.

May we be known most for our yes to God and not live lives of constant no.

Pray for the persecuted and the persecutors

4And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. ~ Acts 9:4-5

With this week’s news of ISIS beheading 21 Coptic Christians**, we find another example of brutality and persecution carried out under the banner of zeal for faith. It’s heart-wrenching, though also nothing new. Religious persecution seems as old as history itself. Each news story, whether involving 1 person, 21, or 2001, reminds us of the tragic reality: there is something seriously wrong in the world. The depth and the darkness of sin should make us shudder and should make us hate even the minor-seeming evils within ourselves.

What should we do when he hear stories? It’s easy to change the channels and ignore the situation…until it happens on our own shores. It’s easy to listen to talking heads and grow angry with the pundits over various actions and inactions of politicians and military commanders who must make difficult decisions concerning the lives of both our citizens and those of other nations. It’s easy to fear and try to shelter ourselves away.

But none of these are Christian responses.

For the persecuted, we must pray. On the one hand, we see that living peaceful lives is very much in the will of God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9); Paul told us to pray for governing authorities that we might live peaceful, quiet lives; and he told us to live in harmony with others and to be agents of peace (Romans 12:16-18); and Peter told us to “honor everyone” (1 Peter 2:17). Peace is to be desired, prayed for, and sought after; for ours is the God of Peace (Romans 15:33).

On the other hand, the Bible also warns that until Jesus returns, there will be the persecution of various peoples, including God’s faithful. Yet, even in the midst of persecution, Jesus said we are blessed when we are persecuted and reviled on his account, and that our reward in heaven is very great (Matthew 5:10-12). He said that though we might be poor and reviled on earth in persecution, we are rich before God; persecution is temporary, life is eternal (Revelation 2:9-11). Peter said not to be surprised by persecution, but to rejoice because of the glory which is coming (1 Peter 4:12-16).

So, we pray. We pray (1) that persecutions might cease and peace would reign, that God’s kingdom would shine more brightly in the world, and that Jesus would come quickly to rescue and restore; (2) that those facing persecution might faithfully endure with a hope focused on the glory of eternal life in Christ; and (3) that God’s true and fair justice would come upon those who oppose him by persecuting and slaying others (Revelation 6:10-11).

We pray for the persecuted.

Yet we also pray for the persecutors. Jesus gave this very command in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The command is both countercultural and counter the way we tend to operate as human beings. Yes, as above, we pray for God’s justice—but we also trust his justice. Hence, we pray for the persecutors and more than this, as we are praying for them, we do good for them and seek to serve them in love (Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 12:19-21). Instead of seeking our own personal vengeance against those who harm and hurt, we are to seek their good.

Ultimately their greatest good is salvation in Christ. In Acts 7-9 we are introduced to a young man who led a great persecution against the church: Saul of Tarsus. The Bible describes Saul as one who oversaw the murder of Christians and “ravaged the church” (Acts 7:58-8:3). He “breathed threats and murder against the disciples” (Acts 9:1). And he “persecuted the church of God with violence and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). Yet he was not beyond the reach of God’s grace.

Jesus confronted him, Saul experienced truth and a change of heart and life, and he then became known as Paul and wrote a large chunk of the New Testament and took the gospel of Jesus form place to place, himself suffering persecutions.

So we pray (1) that terrorists and persecutors would experience the gospel of Christ, turn from their wickedness, and become beacons of grace, love, and truth; (2) that God would raise up one like Saul among the men and women who bring persecution and that his voice in conversion would be a powerful witness; and (3) that repentant ex-persecutors would find peace with God and with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ from the reconciling power of the gospel and God’s Spirit.

Pray for the persecuted. Pray for the persecutors.
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**Link to the news website is for informational purposes only, and is neither a statement for or against any of the content or comments therein

Christmas Peace (pastor’s blog)

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. ~ 1 John 4:14

It doesn’t matter if you read the gospel, the first letter, or Revelation, in all of the apostle John’s writings you will find a global focus with the message of Christ. This is unquestionably one of the themes throughout all of Scripture, as well: God is Lord and King over all the earth and God is the Savior of the nations.

Earth globe Christmas ornament on treeGod’s global focus began all the way back in Genesis 1 when he told humanity’s parents to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Even well after the fall, when God chose Abraham to be the father of a great nation, God’s love for the world was written into the story: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3).

This time of year, we celebrate Christmas, a day we have set aside to honor the birth of our Savior-King as glorious light in a dark and sin-broken world. Announcing his birth to shepherds, a host of heavenly beings rang out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).

Christ in the world was the declaration and fulfillment of God’s promises. Here is the source of blessing; here is the giver of peace.

The peace that Christ gives is both vertical and horizontal. Paul caught this reality well, as we see in Romans.

Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. … Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. ~ Romans 5:1, 9-10

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. ~ Romans 12:17-18

First, Jesus brings us peace with God. Our sin made us rebels and enemies. Our sin placed us in the camp of the great enemy, Satan, in a spiritual war which has been raging at least since Genesis 3. The life and sacrifice of Jesus justifies us from our sins through faith. It takes us from being enemies to being sons and daughters adopted into God’s family (Romans 8).

What a joy, not only to have our death sentence expunged, but to be brought into the home of and loved by the one we so pitifully warred against!

But when we come to have peace with God it means we are to pursue peace with others. “Live peaceably with all,” Paul said. And this peace is more than our cessation of aggression. True peace seeks for good towards even those who try to attack us (Romans 12:19-21).

John told us why this is so: God sent Jesus (born into this world) to be the Savior of the world.

Here we find the theology behind his vision in Revelation 7:9-10—“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

It doesn’t matter our race, our ethnicity, our social background, our gender, our class, our orientations, or our age. Salvation is available to anyone who will hear the gospel message, let go of their life of sin, and cling to Jesus in faith. This is a promise to all, whether we live in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, France, Iran, Nepal, Kenya, Afghanistan, China, or any other nation across the earth. This is a promise to all, whether we grew up going to church, to a synagogue, to a mosque, or spending Sunday mornings in bed. This is a promise to all whether we have tried to live a good life or whether we have breathed threats and violence against others.

This means, when we look around at the world—when we look at our neighbors, our coworkers, people on the streets, fellow students, or people on tv chanting death to America—we are to see others not as our enemies but as potential brothers and sisters in Christ, if only they will listen, repent, and believe.

We also are to see our lives as the means to share the hope of the gospel of Jesus and potentially see others in our world come to have peace with God and seek for peace among mankind.

As we celebrate Christmas, we should set our minds on the proper perspectives. Christmas is all about giving and receiving. God gave his Son for us; we receive the gift and gain new life, forgiveness, and freedom. As we have received, so we are to turn around and give ourselves that others might receive and know Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their lives.