Jesus’s peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

I remember a church in our area which had a sign that said, “Wage Peace.” The church was of the Protestant liberal persuasion which tends to take strong public stands on what is called a progressive, liberal agenda. Then you have on the other hand churches which not only hold to just war theory, but who quite often back American efforts in war. On hindsight, I think we can clearly say that at best there are major problems in military action, and that indeed, war ought to be a last resort.

But was this what Jesus was talking about? While I don’t think Jesus would approve of much of the world’s military action, if indeed there could be any such approval at all, since all is laid bare behind the full scrutiny of the one with eyes like fire, and besides, what affiliation does the kingdom of God have with any nation state? No, Jesus was not referring to that. What he said was surely in a true sense a rebuke to much of that. Wouldn’t it be beneficial and good if the church once again required soldiers returning from war to engage in some kind of time of repentance, even penance, not to earn forgiveness, but to actually be saved from what war effort requires? I say this hesitantly and sadly, while at the same time admiring the service of those who serve honorably and self-sacrificially for their country. And I have no doubt that many do so with character, not wishing to inflict injury on others, but carrying out orders in the confidence that they are on principled grounds. And in a world where evil is often armed, isn’t there a need for police action? I say, clearly yes, as long as it’s restrained, and with the effort to minimize the loss of human life.

But again, back to Jesus and his words here. A peacemaker is someone who makes peace between those who are not peaceful, who often are enemies. Surely peacemaking is in terms of Jesus’s mission which is fulfilled in his death and resurrection. And both before that, and afterward, we find that Christians are to live in the way of Jesus, which means the way of the cross. To understand what Jesus’s words here mean in full, we of course need to go over the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, particularly Acts and the letters. We’re going to find that this peacemaking is always in terms set by Jesus. It is never on the world’s terms, like “might makes right.” And the kind of peace that Roman force enforced. Instead it comes in terms of changed lives, changed societies, indeed, changed priorities. Those alienated from each other, perhaps through past conflict or injustice are made one in Christ. Of course this comes through conversion. Think of Paul’s conversion in which a radical enemy of the faithful, becomes a friend in God.

But let’s not bypass the reality of what often comes between. Those who do the hard work of peacemaking, must themselves, obviously, be peacemakers. You can’t raise Cain, and bring the peace that Christ brings. It must be in the meekness, gentleness, and humility of the Lamb. And it will involve self-sacrifice, even the abnegation of self altogether. But the reward that brings will be well worth the effort. In life, as well as words said, particularly the word of the gospel.

To be a peacemaker then is not to score points and win. We especially need to hear that in this day and age when winning is considered everything, nothing else mattering. No, we take the way of Jesus, and determine from the outset that one of our fundamental goals is peacemaking. A hard task for sure. But more than possible through the Prince of Peace, Jesus, and his sacrificial death for the world, as we walk on the same path, with that same good news, the gospel of peace. Peace with God and with each other. Good news meant even for our enemies. Through the Cross. This is part of what should characterize us, our lives and action. In and through Jesus.

divisive issues and the Christian witness

The cultural divide in the United States seems to be expanding with little or no hope for any meaningful bridging of the gap. Not that Christians should regard that as a chief concern since our calling is to be a witness of Jesus by the way we live, what we do and say. We live in the present time in a kind of exilic state, citizens of heaven, but “resident aliens” on earth, yet praying and hoping for the good of the nations in which we reside (Jeremiah 29), certainly more than a tall task in some places, yet part of our calling.

Those who say experience should override the intellect, or something of the like are themselves making an intellectual proposition. There ought to be a commitment to a reasoning process which includes civil conversation in debate over the issues. And that means all the issues.

The Christian appeal, as Dallas Willard pointed out somewhere in a much more substantial way is to the intellect. I don’t know how Scripture can have such a central, foundational place in the Christian tradition, and anyone think otherwise. After all it is the written words certainly appealing to us as humans through the intellect. That is, if we take it seriously.

I think today’s climate is toxic, not to mention divisive. Christians need to be present in complete humility, willing to learn, but also stating a case made through a disciplined commitment to the study of Scripture, and of life, which of course would include history and philosophy, and whatever else. We should gently and humbly make our case.

Our primary calling to the point that I would simply call it our calling is to the gospel. We are witnesses of it, either good or bad. Our lives either show or fail to show the light of God in Christ. That is what we ought to be known for. Even as we listen and speak out in testimony to the truth as we understand it, and as it stands in Jesus.

hard topics (and the tongue)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

Politics and religion can be quite dicey topics fraught with potential fallout for relationships. The heat can be turned up pretty high when topics surrounding either are being discussed. Discussion and conversation is soon lost into heated argument, if we’re not careful. Perhaps it’s better to avoid such altogether. Probably one of the most helpful attitudes is to acknowledge how much we don’t know, rather than what we think we know.

In Paul’s small but great letter to the Philippians, we find an apt exhortation near its end which can help us in this. First of all, referring to values that were esteemed in the culture of that day, Paul directs the church and by extension us, to ponder what is true, good, beautiful, and praiseworthy. And then he reminds them to live as he did in following Christ. When you consider the letter of Philippians alone, that is indeed a tall order. But one within our grasp to grow into in Christ.

Back to difficult, controversial issues. It might be best to avoid them altogether when we know we might differ with a fellow believer on this or that. It can be good to discuss differences, provided there is a listening ear and openness to learn on both sides. And to those who are not believers, we should major on simply loving, and sharing the good news in Jesus.

Above all, we need to inculcate love between us, especially when what could divide us is simply a few words away. And we can’t take that for granted with anyone. If we do touch on the difficult issues, we need to be quick to draw back and make room for the other person, and their viewpoint. Out of love for them, and for the Lord. All of this in and through Jesus.

the Bible for the real world as it is and our experience in it

Experience can be downplayed by ivory tower thinkers who don’t seem to live in a real world (though they do), but it is where we live. On the other hand, experience can become overplayed, so that it is our one focus, and even somehow mysteriously determines ethics.

The Bible strikes a wonderful balance in taking in all of life just as it is. The material, intellectual, social, even psychological, and yes, spiritual spheres. There’s room in the Bible for all kinds of people, really every kind you can think of, and with all the problems we each carry with us, some with quite special and at times even vexing issues, at least to some.

The Bible is a complex book because it is about real life, life where we live, even the life of the entire world. It was written in a different time and setting, but carries over into every time and setting with some work, and at least prayer and thought.

The Bible was written for experience no less, for real life, for life where we live. It is about the life God created, and the new eternal life which God offers in Jesus. The light which lightens every person coming into the world, even if they haven’t heard of Jesus (John 1). The light for life, for living in the real world, in and through Jesus.

The Bible is written for a real world, and for all of us right where we live. God speaks to us through it, and in other ways as well, as we will see when we begin to turn its pages. Don’t read it hastily, let it sink in. The whole book is important, but if you’ve never read it before, you might want to begin in the gospel according to Mark, and then John’s gospel account. It’s good to read both testaments at the same time, the First/Old Testament beginning with Genesis, and the Final/New Testament beginning with Matthew.

To keep myself on track in the way of Jesus certainly by God’s grace, I am in the word, in scripture, in the Bible daily and throughout the day. I try to read (or one can listen to) larger portions, and chew on, as in meditate or ponder on smaller bits. And it’s important to converse with others about it, like Discover the Word so aptly and helpfully does. And we need the church in its proclamation, teaching and witness to scripture, which ultimately testifies to Jesus himself, and the good news in him.

Life was meant for living in a real world, and the Bible is meant to help us find our way in the Way himself, Jesus, in the way we were created to live. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss out.

breaking the tension

In life we often run up against tension of one kind or another. Oftentimes we don’t know why, sometimes we might know or have a hunch and want to dismiss and shrug it off as not mattering. And not try to break the ice and through the impasse, thinking it is not our problem. It may well not be our problem, at least largely so. But what are we to do considering the first and greatest command to love God and the second like it, to love our neighbor as ourselves?

By faith we need to break the silence with conversation, real conversation, give and take. Humor can help quite well. But from a heart that genuinely listens and is interested in give and take. This must be rooted in both a commitment to love God and love our neighbor, including even our enemies and especially our brothers and sisters in Jesus. We love out of God’s love for us, though at times it can seem to be a naked act of the will. God will be there to help us, and especially when we are seeking to promote peace with another, a peace not moved from truth but always steeped in grace and love.

conversation

I have found that conversation, the practice of listening and sharing back and forth can lift one out of the doldrums of an otherwise dreary day. The secret in that is to be in communion with a friend. Of course that can be on all sorts of levels, perhaps just sharing back and forth about each other’s life. It could be on a more “intellectual” level in discussing an issue. Acceptance and inclusion are key. I am thinking of one on one, but a group of people can sometimes be nicer yet.

At our church after the Sunday morning service there is a time when we visit each other. With coffee (if you like, and I do) in hand. We take it for granted, but if we no longer would do this we would miss it. And rightfully so.

Our communion in Christ is a communion with each other as well, as his body. That is the key in good conversation: communion, or moving toward that. In Christ it is a communion in him by the Spirit. It is one of grace and love. As well as truth in the presence of God, who in Christ is with us.

Small talk is a part of it, not to be despised (as Eugene Peterson has reminded us, with different words). Simply being friends. And extending the hand of fellowship and love to others who are not in our circle. Praying for each other and others as we do so. Together in Jesus for the world.

needed: conversation partners

Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.

The context in Malachi is God’s correction of his people. And we see their response and then God’s response.

I don’t know how good a conversationalist I am. A good conversation involves careful listening, and being willing to share one’s thoughts. It involves give and take. And it is done in the context of friendship and commitment to each other. And for God’s people in Jesus, commitment to a common cause.

In scripture while the individual is important, the context is a covenant with God in a community. Commitment is essential. And conversation as well. That is an important often undervalued and even less practiced ingredient in the mix.

I like it one on one preferably over coffee. Or in a small group. But for us in Jesus it is not conversation for conversation’s sake. Even if some of it is just to enjoy a good conversation with good friends, we in Jesus can do that along with all things to the glory and praise of our Father. But we also converse with the intent of encouraging, exhorting and building each other up in the faith. And not just for our own edification, but to help each other be the witness of Jesus we’re called to be in and for this world. As we look to God in Jesus by the Spirit to direct us in all of this.

conversation

Yesterday with a brother in Jesus at work, I had a fun time conversing about the interest in music we have in common, mostly about “progressive rock” groups. If you know me, you know that my love for classical music has taken over, so that is mostly all the music I listen to anymore.

Conversation about common interests can be underrated. I found it uplifting and fun. It doesn’t have to be about “spiritual” matters. While I don’t always see eye to eye with Rob Bell, or maybe more accurately, understand what he’s getting at, I do agree with his point about all things being spiritual in the sense of breaking down the sacred, secular dichotomy, a false dualism. And yet there are dualisms which we must heed. We are after all, not to love the world or the things in the world, in the sense of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. However we can appreciate all the good in creation, including human culture, apart from that.

Back to the subject conversation, it is good to be able to share one’s heart and mind with others. To listen. To enjoy their take and thoughts. It is nice to connect with someone like that, as I did with my brother yesterday. Something of “heaven” is in that. We need to be able to converse with others with our guard down, not being concerned about something stupid we may say, since we know we won’t be judged, but all is grace. Unfortunately this is more rare than we might imagine, a gift not to be taken for granted. Something to be cultivated.

Even as we seek to live and speak truth in difficult settings. Together in God’s grace in Jesus.

love listens

In the midst of the debates happening surrounding Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”, there is a theme which resonates with me and should speak to everyone on both, or every side. Love listens, and seeks to really hear what the other is saying. And in doing this, love seeks to put the best construction on it. Without necessarily agreeing with it, of course.

Often skepticism precedes really listening and hearing. But worse than skepticism, we can rush to conclusions. Failing to really contextualize what the other is saying. And worst of all, we close the door to any conversation with them. A conversation which might help them, as well as us in sorting out what is important, and what’s not as important.

Listening involves asking questions for clarification, and trying to think through critically, hopefully with the other, just what they are saying. Charges of heresy have been leveled by some toward Rob Bell’s book, some even dismissing him as a heretic. While others, who mostly don’t agree with everything, or his conclusions in the book, do not make such charges. This becomes a matter of judgment. He wrote a book, and he can’t erase that. One has to weigh in their judgment, any merits as well as demerits, or liabilities of the book. And listen to what others say on this, as well as converse with others, in trying to understand, and arrive to a position.

While this happens to be a hot issue at present, I use it to consider across the board in life, just where I need to listen better, which most likely is everywhere. In love. Really beginning to hear and understand what another, and others are saying. Hearing their heart, as well as their thoughts.

And above all, listening so as to really begin to hear God in everything. What I hear may not at all match what I imagine, at least not in the way I end up hearing it. But I need to be open to what God may be wanting to tell me. And maybe even through a book, with all of its weaknesses. While at the same time, being willing in love to ask questions, and form the best judgment one can.

conversation

Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.
Malachi 3

The Christianity of the younger generation (what has been called “emergent”) has been called a conversation. It comes from what is called a “center set” in which in this case, people meet more or less in or around Jesus by the Spirit, the word, sacraments, fellowship, etc. And from that people may over time develop a sense of belonging with those that they come to emulate, adopting certain practices or customs, and by and by come to believe much the same things–in this case of the faith. Such as God becoming one of us through the Incarnation in Jesus. That is in contrast to the common, traditional “bounded set” at least in generations past in evangelicalism where it is about certain doctrinal parameters one needs to accept by faith through which they enter in and come to belong and from that begin to change their practices and life.

I think there is much value in conversation, provided that it is a dialog and friendly, with the goal of bringing others into fellowship and communion with one another and ultimately with God through Jesus. God intends for people not only to have fellowship with him through Jesus, but also with one another in and through Jesus. And even with those on the outside to draw them in. That is a strength in the less traditional settings. This needs as a rule to start in fellowship and communion with God. Jesus used to get up early in the morning to meet in solitude with his Father in prayer.

Yesterday I was worn out with a heavy heart, nearly too heavy. But I found myself amazingly lifted up out of that through simple conversation with a brother. I don’t think we were talking at all about anything to do, at least not the most direct reasons for my heavy heart. As far as I know I did not mention that. But it just seemed as if God lifted me up out of those depths, breathing new life into my spirit and bones.

We were made for fellowship with God and with each other. When God said it is not good for the man to be alone, referring to Adam, God meant that we need human fellowship, along with the wonder of man and woman united in marriage- of course. So that we can say that it is not enough for us to have fellowship with God. Actually all fellowship is to be inclusive of God. In other words we are to be in fellowship with each other in a fellowship that includes God. Or God is the one from whom all good fellowship flows. Of course outsiders, or those who know nothing of God, can actually join in the fellowship, and by and by become a part of it.

Let us be open to a good conversation. Listening well, and sharing from our hearts and lives with each other. And including others who may not know the one through whom we have communion. Remembering that we are all dependent on God always and forever in and through Jesus.