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.

START YOUR ENGINES

“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”  James 4:17

 

Someone I know suffers from severe depression and has for years.  She is a faithful believer and spends time in the morning reading and studying the Bible.  In fact, she wouldn’t think of skipping a day without devotions.  When I mentioned that it might be helpful to look each day to see what God was actually telling her to do—something actionable—in the Word, it was as if lightning had struck.  This was a whole new concept.

How much time do we spend reading and studying the Bible with absolutely no intention or thought of doing what God says in order to be transformed?  We are enjoying the status quo rather than being changed day by day into his image.  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine (principles of belief), for reproof (reprimand), for correction (making right), for instruction in righteousness (right standing with God):  That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.  (II Timothy 3:16-17)

The Word of God gives direction (Psa. 119:105); obeying the Word brings blessing (Luke 11:28); doing the Word protects us in the storm (Luke 7:24); the Word provides understanding (Psa. 119:130); the Word is truth (John 17:17); the Word heals (Psa. 107:20); whoever keeps his Word loves him (John 14:21); keeping his Word brings success (Josh. 1:8).  AND living in the Word is the surest way to grow spiritually and to maintain a joyous relationship with him.

Why should we sell ourselves short when delight in him is so easily accessed?  Pick up the Bible; ask him to speak through his Word; talk to him; and live in him.  He’s made the way so plain that even the most stupid can’t miss it (Isa. 35:8 TLB).

 

Father, in you is everything we will ever need for life and righteousness.  Strengthen our faith to trust you in all things, and help us to discipline ourselves so that we may be transformed into your likeness.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

SINGING IN THE DARK

 

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Acts 16:25

 

Upon a recent reading of this text, I was struck not by Paul and Silas’s singing in prison, which in itself was remarkable,  but by the little comment that “the other prisoners were listening to them.”  Of course, they were listening.  Never having occupied a prison cell for my Christian witness, I have no firsthand experience of what words and phrases would daily bounce off the walls of those cold, dark, forgotten places.  But I do have a vivid imagination.

I can imagine that angry, bitter expressions and vile curses would be commonplace as the wicked, the innocent, and the politically disfavored wasted away hoping for rescue.  And then these strange men are tossed in among them.  Men who were thrown in prison for healing a demon-possessed woman.  Of all those locked away, Paul and Silas had reason to complain.

And yet, “about midnight,” the time when all one’s aches and pains and worries and emotional angst are exacerbated, that time when the Prince of Darkness wreaks havoc in our bodies and minds, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.  Do you wonder that the prisoners were listening to them?  Paul and Silas had been beaten and severely flogged.  They were probably bleeding and were surely suffering.  Instead of cursing and complaining, they were singing because there was a joyous melody in their hearts.

There was something beyond the realm of ordinary religion.  Rather than comfort, the gods of the day made selfish, extraordinary requirements of their supplicants and were known to wreak havoc on their lives.  Paul and Silas were praying and singing to the Almighty, Omnipotent God.  What a mighty God they served, one who caused them to sing in suffering, one who brought joy to the darkest circumstance, and one who caused them to experience his presence in the hopelessness of their situation.  Of course, the prisoners were listening.

Today people around us are watching, and they’re listening.  Will we pray, will we sing in difficulty?  Will we “count it all joy” when we experience trials that threaten to overcome us.  Will we sense that there is a Fourth Man in the fire with us?  And will we sing?

 

Father, only you are able to give us those songs in the night.  It’s not a matter of putting on a happy face, but it’s rather a matter of absolute abandonment to your faithfulness.  Strengthen us to keep singing of you, and cause our lives to be lived to your glory at all times.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

CONTENTMENT

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  Philippians 4:11 (NIV)

 

For years my brother Jack and I had promised our dad that he could stay at home as long as his health permitted.  And then the time came when the doctor told us that Dad’s mental illness was endangering him, our mom, and his caregivers.  We had to find a safe place for him.

At the last minute, our consultant told us about family residential care in private homes with trained attendants.  Although we’d never heard of this option, we discovered that such a home was available in my parents’ neighborhood.

When Jack and I visited the family home, we knew it was God’s providential response to our promise and our prayers.  The family was Christian; one of the daughters was training to be a nurse; and we fell in love with them immediately.

Jack and I returned to our parents’ home to tell Momo the doctor’s recommendation and then to ask her a difficult question:  Would she move out of the house she and Dad had built together and had lived in for over fifty years?  We gently explained Dad’s mental condition and his need for more skilled care, and then we asked if she would be willing to go with him.  We knew he wouldn’t be able to leave his wife of seventy-one years.

“I’ll go,” Momo replied, “and I’ll like it even if I don’t like it.”  Her faithful walk with the Lord since childhood had shaped in her a willingness to be led (as Peter) in places she might not have chosen for herself.

When Papa left the hospital, Jack took him to his new “home” with rooms decorated just as they had been in the house he and Momo had shared together.  And Momo was there, full of love, full of care.

In an era when we so often are expected to think first of ourselves at the expense of those we love and who love us, I remember Momo’s “liking [her circumstance] even when she didn’t like it.”  Of her willingness to follow Christ when it meant death to her personal desires.  God’s grace and her selflessness empowered her to be the companion Dad needed for his last days, and her joy in the Lord sustained her.

 

 

Father, so many of us have wonderful spiritual heritages.  As we follow the examples of those who have gone before us, help to remember that others are watching us.  Glorify yourself in us.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

OOPS

…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.  Luke 6:38

 

My friend David told me a story about a village that had just experienced a record crop of grapes, and all the villagers agreed to come together for a regional celebration of thanksgiving.  The mayor requested everyone to bring a barrel of their very best wine; each one would pour his contribution into a large vat.

The day and time of the festival was announced, and people came from far and wide to join in the happiness of the tiny village.  The head of each family brought his keg, climbed the small ladder, and poured his wine into the community receptacle while the people below cheered and clapped.  The next person came, climbed the ladder, and added his barrel of wine.  And so on it went.  Person after person climbed the ladder and accepted the applause as he emptied his barrel.

One of the villagers, a rather parsimonious fellow, thought to himself that he would fill his barrel with water and empty it without anyone’s knowing that he had withheld his family’s bounty.  He, too, was cheered and applauded as he emptied his barrel and made his way down the ladder.

The big moment of the festival arrived.  All the neighboring villagers crowded around with their tankards looking forward to tasting the delicious fruit of the year’s labor.  The mayor put the first mug under the spigot and opened the tap.  And to the shame of all the villagers, the liquid flowed clear.  Everyone had selfishly filled their kegs with water and saved the good wine for themselves.

David and I had been talking about stewardship and the joy of giving—that Jesus said it was more blessed to give than to receive.  Paul went on to say that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (II Cor. 9:6).

There’s an old saying I heard a lot growing up, What goes ‘round comes ‘round.  I suspect that’s what happened with that stingy little village.  Not only did they miss out on the joy of giving, but they embarrassed themselves in front of the whole region.

 

Lord, we hear and read with joy stories of great generosity and the blessing it brings.  Give us hearts that love to give so that we might bless others and bring glory to your name, the one who gave all.  AMEN.

DO GOODERS

 

And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  Acts 10:38  (TNLB)

 

 

You probably remember the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, for their sermons and songs.  John is credited for averting in England the kind of bloody civil war that occurred in France.  Although they were both known for preaching salvation by faith in Christ rather than works, John famously said,

Do all the good you can

In all the ways you can

In all the places you can

At all the times you can

By all the means you can

To all the people you can

As long as ever you can.

We don’t reach out in love to others in order to win favor with God, and we don’t do our good deeds in order to earn our salvation.  However, when we love him, we just can’t help ourselves from wanting to please him.  Any good that comes from us is an expression of our love for God and an evidence of his presence in us.  Jesus told Peter that if Peter loved him, he would show it by doing what Jesus told him to do (John 14:15 Message).

It’s already late in the afternoon, but I’m thinking of ways to do all the good I can, however, and wherever I can.  Not only will it bring joy to the people I touch, but it brings pleasure to my Father and great joy to me.

 

Heavenly Father, remove from me every obstacle that blocks me from doing good.  Remove the self-orientation, and use me to bless your world—as long as ever I can.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

JOY TO THE WORLD

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”  Luke 2:10  (NIV)

 

 

What must those humble shepherds have thought when they heard the angels proclaiming joy for everyone?  Did that include them, even them?  Did they anticipate freedom from Rome?  Perhaps relief from their hardships and marginalization?  How did those shepherds define joy?

As part of that vast throng to whom the message of joy applies, how do we today characterize joy?  Is joy a permanent fix for chronic physical suffering?  Is it the mending of broken hearts?  Is it the realization of a dream that has long eluded us?  How do we define joy?

We know that joy is distinguished from happiness, which is dependent on circumstances.  Joy is not temporary; it’s not based on emotions, relationships, or things; and it’s not egocentric.  Joy can’t be intimidated.  It is a gift from God and is a fruit of the Spirit.  We don’t produce joy; God causes it to grow in us as we love, obey, and abide in him.

This abiding in him in which our heart is turned to him produces that joy that strengthens and empowers us in all circumstances when happiness would abandon.  While happiness seduces us to look inward, constantly measuring personal satisfaction and comfort, joy opens our eyes to the eternal and God’s perspective of our world.  We see his hand, his care, his love, his provision, his opportunity, and so on rather than time-bound circumstances.

On our recent trip to Uganda, we took time to visit the Martyr’s Shrine that honors 45 Christians who died in the late 20th Century when they acknowledged a King greater than the Kabaka (tribal king).  The young men refused to abandon their faith even when threatened with death.   Some were dragged, others experienced amputation of extremities, and still others were disemboweled.  Those brave Christians were next wrapped all around with sticks and then roasted on a huge fire.  For some it took three days to die.

So what does this have to do with joy?  Those young men are not honored every June 3 on Martyr’s Day simply because they would not denounce Jesus Christ or their faith in him.  The eyewitnesses who watched them suffer said that they all died while singing hymns of praise to their King.  Joy cannot be extinguished by earthly devices.  Perhaps they each experienced that Fourth Man in the fire (Daniel 3:25) who graced them with joy that overcame all pain.

The angel’s message of joy to the world is the gift of Jesus in whose presence is fullness of joy; at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11).  REAL, never-ending joy that lasts forever.

 

Father, we are so easily satisfied with temporary, superficial things.  Awaken us to the eternal riches that are found only in you.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

THERE’S ALWAYS MORE

 

I am come that they might have life, and that they might have [it] more abundantly.  John 10:10  (KJV)

 

 

I just read about a lady who was known for her extraordinary Christian maturity.  One day her pastor asked her to preach the Sunday sermon believing that her experience would be instructive to the congregation.  On the Sunday when the lady rose to speak, her sermon was short and sweet.  “Dear Friends,” she began, “there’s always more.”  And with that, she sat down.

Just begin to ponder that simple message:  there’s always more.  The God of the Infinite, the one who promised to meet all our needs, the Alpha (beginning) and the Omega (ending), the great Creator never operates in scarcity.  He never runs out of any resource—of love, of grace, of mercy, of patience, of whatever we need.  And there’s no end to the delights of knowing him.

Think of what this means in your present circumstance.  As a parent, spouse, friend, employer:  there’s more wisdom, there’s more understanding, there are more ideas, there’s more love…  As an intellectual:  there’s more to contemplate, there’s more to learn, there’s more to investigate, there’s more for growth…   As a leader:  there’s more direction, there’s more discernment, there are more resources, there’s more creativity…  As a disciple:  there’s more to discover, there’s more to obey, there’s more to abandon, there’s more to enjoy…  We could fill in the blanks indefinitely.  Suffice it to say, that in Christ, there is abundance.

Lest we consider God as having limited resources, just look at his provision for the Children of Israel in the wilderness; for Elijah in hiding; for Ruth in Bethlehem; for David in his wanderings; for Israel in exile; for feeding the four thousand and five thousand; for rescuing you and me; and for the times he is always there for his people.  His hand is not shortened that he cannot save nor is he deaf that he cannot hear our prayers (Isaiah 59:1).

We sometimes treat our spiritual beings as add-ons.  They’re peripheral to our real lives.  But Jesus says I’ve come to give you abundant life, more than we’re currently experiencing.  If we’re not living in abundance, there’s more.  God has more for us than we can think or imagine and waits for us to move beyond our impoverished selfishness into his endless provision of more.  Wherever we find ourselves, there’s always more.  Dare we take the challenge?

 

Father, charge our spiritual imaginations that we reach out in faith to you to receive more from your goodness.  Move us beyond our spiritual poverty into the richness we have in Christ Jesus.  Gratefully, we pray in Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

MY TIME

My times are in your hands.  Psalm 31:15  (NIV).

 

My graduate advisor was a time management consultant.  He gave us so many helpful ideas about time, but there are two things that really stuck with me.  First, time is an equal opportunity commodity—everyone has exactly the same amount, no more and no less.  Secondly, we cannot manage time; we manage ourselves in relation to time.  So these two little truisms pull the rug out from under our excuses for procrastination:  I just didn’t have time or I’ll do it when I find the time.  As if someone else has more time than we do…

Typically in our church year, we are called to look at those resources of which we are stewards:  time, talent, treasure.  Curiously, we seem to understand that talent and treasure are God’s, and we are his stewards.  But when it comes to time, we take ownership and thoughtlessly speak of my time and parse the way we expend this trust.  We guard our time and dare anyone to impose on it.  Even God should not presume to infringe of this personal possession.

So we spend our time indulging ourselves in whatever manner we choose, but it really doesn’t matter how innocuous the activity if it diminishes God’s calling on our lives.  We can spend hours in mindless personal entertainment (as opposed to re-creation) and feel empty and restless rather than refreshed and satisfied.  Or we can daily, prayerfully ask God how we should expend the moments and hours he’s given us for his purposes.  While we all have the same amount of time allotted, that time is finite and can joyously be invested in his Kingdom for eternal purposes.

What if we were to dedicate time to God as intentionally as we give him the talent and treasure he’s entrusted to us?  Would we stop guarding it and daring people to infringe upon it?  Might we find, just as treasure tends to be, that it is multiplied even as we freely commit it to our heavenly Father to use as he pleases?

I think it’s worth a try.

 

Father, at the start of this day, we commit these next twenty-four hours to you to use for your glory.  Give us the discipline to embrace and prioritize our responsibilities, enjoy the leisure you provide, and not waste a single minute of your precious gift. In all that we do, help us to glorify you.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.