MAKING PEACE

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Matthew 5:9

 

 

My mother was full of homespun wisdom.  She was an avid student of Christian literature, and she put into practice what she learned.

Momo told me about a little tiff she was having with my father.  Apparently, neither of them wanted to concede a point, and neither wanted to surrender.   To this impasse, the Holy Spirit spoke, “Share with him some of the mints you’re eating,” was the simple directive, which implied reaching out across the firing line.  At first she resisted, but the sweet Voice continued to nudge.  Finally, Momo obeyed, and the battle was ended.  Just like that.

Momo said that pride and the insistence on always being right can bring and maintain grief to any relationship.  Humbling oneself can be as easy as extending an olive branch (or mint) to our opponent and then watching God bring down the barriers.  Yes, we often have to be First Responders.

How many battles do we win and lose by refusing to make peace?  How often do we miss golden opportunities for moving from the Self Life to Kingdom Living because winning is everything, and Self is very much in control?

I am learning that the more I listen and obey, the more consistently I experience God’s joy.  And God’s joy is one of those fruits of the Spirit that grows in a heart that lives and moves and has its being in him.

 

Lord, thank you for nurturing me through family members who loved you and willingly followed even when it meant losing—for the time being.  Help me to be a peacemaker.  I want to be called a child of God.  AMEN.

REAL LIFE

 

Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord:  whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.  Romans 14:8

 

I’ve just returned from northern Kenya and a Marriage and Ministry conference that we were asked to conduct for pastors and their wives.  Having worked with this group of believers in the past, I looked forward to renewing acquaintances.

Sure enough, Moses was there.  I first met him years ago just as he was coming in from an evangelistic outreach.  I had heard about the persecution coming from animists and other religious groups.  To my astonishment, Moses and his friends were laughing and actually rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to be shot at and to suffer for Jesus, just as the early Church rejoiced in their hardships.  This trip, I asked Moses if he’d ever had the bullets removed from his leg.  With a big smile, he said they were too close to some nerves to risk removal.

And then I met Matthew, one of the praise musicians who comes from another African country.  As a security officer, he was ordered to shoot peaceful protesters and refused.  Government officers shot Matthew in the head, and he was taken to the hospital.  He lost sight in one eye but was on the way to recovery when he was warned that some men were en route to the hospital to finish him off.  Meanwhile, the military went to Matthew’s house and killed his wife.  Matthew escaped and took three of his children with him to Kenya.  Since coming to Kenya, two of Matthew’s children have been kidnapped by his country’s government, but Matthew continues to praise and trust God.

My friend Toch, director of the ministry, has been stoned and ambushed numbers of times—three times the pistol placed to his head didn’t fire.  Toch lives to talk about Jesus and to witness to his saving grace.  He and his band of merry disciples work throughout the north of Kenya bringing hope where there is despair and demonstrating Christ’s love and life through their words and deeds.

I see the Church as Christ meant it to be when I am with these Christian brothers and sisters—joyous and counting each day precious.  They understand the Kingdom of God and life in the Kingdom.  I watch members of warring tribes embrace and support one another when they share the same Father.  I follow these disciples into slum areas to share food and Bible stories with prostitutes as they walk together bringing new life.

I stand humbly listening to their stories and cannot help comparing them with my own privileged, secure, comfortable life.  And I am overwhelmed that they find something in me that they ask me to share with them.  You see, our circumstances may be different, but we are children of the same Father having different mothers.

I always return knowing that real life is Christ, and real living is in him.

 

Father, be with my Kenyan friends who count their lives as nothing for the sake of the Gospel.  Keep them safe as they go.  Keep me faithful in my circumstances knowing always that I, too, bear your name.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

KEPT BY GOD

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.  Psalm 34:7

 

Sometimes our work involves a touch of risk, and I am awed when God provides ways of escape.  A few weeks ago the city where we were holding a conference  was under attack from warring cartels.  We continued with our teaching and later discovered that the city had been shut down by gun battles after we left.

And then there was an instance when I was doing leadership training in an African nation.  A dispute arose between tribes; university students were unhappy with certain conditions; and local laborers were in conflict with the government.  Three riots broke out over a period of several weeks.  On one occasion there was gunfire in front of the restaurant where I’d gone for lunch; another time opposing groups were shooting at one another at the bottom of the hill where we were in a policy meeting.  But none of it touched us.

My friend Cissy* was driving down the highway with her ranch foreman when they were stopped by members of a group looking for a particular man.  Cissy and the foreman were pulled out of the truck, hands and feet were bound, and they were held for a few hours while they were interrogated.  One man grabbed the gold chain and cross on Cissy’s neck and started to pull it off.  She stopped him while she unclasped and handed it to him.

Cissy and her foreman waited tensely not knowing if they would live or die.  Later, I asked her about her thoughts and emotions at the time:  Was she afraid?  How did she feel?  Cissy said she was praying the whole time, confessing, and repenting, but she felt only peace.  Cissy told God she was ready to go at any time.

Finally, a phone call came back to the thugs to say that they had the wrong man.  Cissy and her foreman had their hands and feet untied, and Cissy’s necklace was returned.  God had kept them in body and spirit, and Cissy moves with confidence wherever she goes knowing that God is with her.

I see God’s hand regularly keeping us at home and abroad.  From drivers who run red lights to household accidents to medical emergencies and everything in between…  He watches over us all.  One of my friends reminds me frequently, “The center of God’s will is the safest place to be.”

I also see saints bravely giving their lives in service to their Lord.  They know that sometimes deliverance means going from this temporal life to being forever with the Lord.  One of those brave ones who travels in one of the risky areas I mentioned reminded me this week, “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s”  (Romans 14:8).

 

Father, thank you for saints among us who remind us that our citizenship is in heaven, and we are always kept by you.  AMEN.

* Her name is changed for confidentiality.

BETTER THAN ANYBODY ELSE

I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever; with my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations.  Psalm 89:1

 

 

I was always bemused when, in their Golden Years, my parents would often reflect on their blessings.  “God has been better to us than anybody else,” Momo would say.  And Papa would agree as they recounted God’s goodness.

The reason for my perplexity had to do with my firsthand knowledge of their circumstances for most of the decades of their lives:  I’d seen and lived through various severe illnesses, financial stresses, personality clashes, heated disagreements, griefs, and assorted crises.  And yet my parents thought their lives were better than anyone else’s.

As I get older I am beginning to understand.  My parents were faithful, committed believers but were not perfect.  They lived with the same challenges and struggles many of us encounter and sometimes, I think, they, too, may have been at a breaking point.  BUT THEY BELIEVED GOD.  Romans 4:3 says that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  God knew Abraham’s heart and walked with him through all the dark places of his life just as he walked with Momo and Papa.

As we walk with the Lord, learning from the suffering and failures, praising him for his faithfulness, our trust in him (our belief) is strengthened, and we begin to know him.  We experience his faithfulness; we experience his love, his closeness, his comfort; and, like Paul, we are persuaded that he is able to keep us (II Timothy 1:12).  Over time we begin to know experientially that God is everything he says and will do everything he says.  We know that he will provide desired outcomes or the grace to enrich the most terrible circumstance.  We learn to accept his peace before the storm is stilled, and we obediently rejoice in him always.

Nowadays, I think I may be among the most blessed people alive, and then I remember Momo and Papa.  Yes, I’m beginning to understand what they mean.

 

Father, thank you for the seed of eternity you’ve put within us, and thank you for that joy and hope that continually grows as we walk faithfully with you.  Help me to walk on and on with you, as Enoch did, and someday arrive at home.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

THIS OLD HOUSE

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  II Corinthians 4:16 (NIV)

 

 

The workmen are at it again.  This time they’re stripping off rotten wood siding and trim and lattice work.  Some are painting; some are nailing; some are measuring and sawing.  Living in a house that’s over 100 years old has its own special charm, but it also is terribly demanding, and maintenance is high on the list of priorities.  Last year it was the kitchen when the plumbing erupted; the year before was an upgrade for my bedroom space.  Now I have to attend to the exterior.

Years ago there was a country song that was all about old houses:  This Old House by Stuart Hamlin and recorded by Mel Tillis.  It mentioned all the things the house had been through—storms, darkness, lightning, night winds—but went on to say that the old house wouldn’t be needed much longer.  The song writer was getting ready to meet the saints.

Paul talked a bit about houses when he mentioned having a treasure in an earthen vessel (II Corinthians 4:7), a fragile dwelling place.  We know that treasure, our eternal life in Christ Jesus who dwells within us, continues on no matter the condition of our mortal bodies.

I find that thought comforting in this transient environment that can bring daily challenges to us all:  a child becomes ill; an elderly person falls and breaks a bone; a teenager tears a meniscus; automobile accidents result in injuries.  And though our temporal housing, our body, may suffer and even deteriorate, our eternal life in Christ Jesus is being renewed every single day.

Pains and aches, no matter how severe, do not touch our relationship with our Lord.  Living by faith in his promises, rejoicing in his nearness, and trusting his grace can always lift us beyond the here and now.  In suffering we move confidently into his presence and ask him to hide us (Psalm 32:7) from the storm ravaging our body for the moment.  We rest steadfast in him, knowing that pain and distress are only temporary while he is eternal.

Never will he leave us, and when it’s time to move on from the patched-up house we’ve inhabited for a while, we have the assurance that our heavenly home will be maintenance-free.  And our eternal self will be forever liberated from the shell that demands so much attention.

 

Father, keep me focused on you and not the physical ailments that sometimes tempt me to get obsessed with them.  Thank you that these aches remind me that I am made for eternity and will some day be set free to live forever with you.  Meanwhile, help me to use suffering for your divine purposes.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

GIVING: A TRUE STORY

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Luke 6:38

 

 

A colleague and I have been doing lectures for clergy and laity on Christian stewardship.  So many people seem to be of the opinion that stewardship is optional—we pick and choose those things we will care for.  As if our bodies will run on automatic without proper food, exercise, rest, and relaxation…  As if our spirits will continue to thrive without the Word, obedience, or prayer…  As if our souls will be sustained without love, intellectual stimulation, or challenges…

Stewardship is holistic:  our time includes choices and priorities; our talent encompasses sharing those unique gifts with which God has blessed us; and treasure is that which God has planted within these clay vessels as well as all the resources he’s entrusted to us.   Actually, we are brimming over with riches that we can expend on God’s Kingdom and at his direction.

Over dinner, some friends told me how their pastor had graphically illustrated this point last week.  Typically, their church doesn’t pass an offering plate—people entering the sanctuary place their offerings in a box set aside for their tithes and offerings.  The pastor announced he would do something different.  He would preach on giving, and they would take an offering.

After this unusual occurrence, the ushers passed buckets—the pastor asked people to give only the cash in their pockets—and then brought the buckets back to the front whereupon the pastor told the congregation that the buckets would be passed again.  But this time, anyone who had a need was to take out what he needed—that was what everyone wanted him/her to do.  At that, the congregation began to applaud, and the buckets were passed.  Right and left, hands began to reach out and find that there was plenty for all.

This week, the pastor announced the result of this ministry:  Stories were pouring in of desperate folks being touched and helped.  After all the needs were met, there was still $68,000 left over.  He asked everyone to stay tuned to see what God would do with the leftovers.

Does that remind you of a story about loaves and fishes?

 

Father, when we trust you and allow you to be Lord over all you’ve given us, there is always enough—and more.  Thank you.  AMEN.

MISSING THE BUS

…to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ…  Ephesians 3:8

 

My grandson Sam and I were en route to visit friends in Little Plumstead, a tiny village in northeastern England.  Rather than take the train, we decided on a leisurely bus tour through the glorious countryside.

We arrived at the station with minutes to spare, and Sam sought out the particular bus for our journey while I waited in the terminal for his signal.  And I waited.  And waited.  Finally, Sam came racing in, looking to see where I’d gone.

He had been on our bus, talking with the driver, explaining that his grandmother would appear momentarily.  And he waited.  And waited.  Finally, the driver said he had a schedule to meet and could delay no longer.  He ushered Sam off the bus and left while I quietly waited in the station for word of departure.

While I waited, the vehicle that would take us to our destination up and left us.  Instead of a relatively short nonstop drive, we had to purchase a new set of tickets and were put on a route where we stopped at every tiny hamlet (it seemed like dozens), prolonging and delaying our journey.  At last, we arrived and were sympathetically greeted by our hosts.  Yes, in Britain, you buy your ticket and get on the bus.  You do not wait for an announcement and for someone to escort you to your seat.  So, next time I will know.

I am wondering if we ever sit back waiting comfortably for God to tap us on the shoulder and remind us of all the provisions that are ours in Christ Jesus?  Do we ever puzzle over why he isn’t overwhelming us with his grace and bounty when all the while he’s made promises that are as good as tickets in our hands?

I must remember to claim what’s already been bought for me and to put myself on whatever vehicle God has provided.  If I don’t, I’ll miss the bus.

 

Lord, you are so merciful when I am sometimes so vague.  Poke me if I sit around waiting for you to act—when you’ve already given us everything we’ll ever need.  Help me to access all that is mine in Christ Jesus.  Humbly, I pray in Jesus’ name.  AMEN.