Monday, June 29, 2020

Looking for Peace in an Unpeaceful World

It seems like the "new normal" we keep hearing about in commercials is stress-filled days caused by "bad" news of the pandemic, economic struggles, the constant bickering of elected officials who refuse to work together, and violent protests and political unrest that's evolved into people calling for the erasure of our country's history--both the good and the bad. I have noticed that the cry of my heart at the end of every day is for peace. And, the question I ponder is, "How do I sow peace in a world so filled with discord?"

Because my husband spent years doing research on cotton, I have grown fond of faming analogies. So, if peace were a crop we could grow, we would do is secure a field, cultivate the ground by breaking up the soil, add needed nutrients, and form perfect rows in which to plant seeds of peace. I would liken the cultivation process to putting into our hearts and mind God's truth because He is our source of peace, whether that peace is in our relationship with Him or in our relationships with each other.

The next thing we would do is set up a perimeter around our field to guard it. I would like that to 1 Timothy 6:20, "O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoid the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge." We want to remember God's Word is as true today as it was in the days it was written. We would do well to saturate our minds with it so it becomes a measuring stick by which we measure everything we see and hear. We may need to limit how much news we watch or how often we scroll Facebook, because much of what is on there right now is equivalent to profane, idle babbling, and contradictions to the truth being portrayed as knowledge. If we aren't careful, we can be carried away by the false narratives being so loudly proclaimed.

At times we will need to deal with pests that destroy the peace we are sowing. Imagine if you will, a field full of freshly sown seeds and a flock of crows starts circling overhead and are ready to descend. If we look carefully we can see names of the crows written on them. The first crow that tries to land is Temptation. He wants to draw us into sin because sin can destroy the sense of peace that we have with God. If we aren't careful we can invite this crow in through all kinds of media--inappropriate shows, angry posts to which we want to respond in an ungodly manner, and enticements to visit and revisit the besetting sins we once thought we had conquered. Other crows bear the family name of Fear--Fear of the Future, Fear of Illness, Fear of Rejection, Fear of Change, Fear of the loss of our constitutional rights, and many more. Some of these crows bear the family names of Discouragement, Despair, and Depression. We can deal with these crows by placing a Scare Crow in the middle of the garden. If you haven't already guessed, the Scare Crow is Jesus. The dark forces of the world literally tremble in His presence and we need to let Him be the guard of our lives and our hearts. We want to keep our eyes focused on Him as we do the work of cultivating peace.

Next imagine seedlings popping through the soil. They need to be nurtured with nutrients and water on a consistent basis to be healthy. They need to have the weeds growing near them pulled. The nutrients represent the Word of God, the water the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live lives connected to the Lord, and the weeds represent all that hinders our peace. Young plants are vulnerable to little worms, beetles, and aphids that want to feed on the plants. These pests can do great damage, even destroying crops all together. These pests are the lies--big and small--that the enemy whispers in our ears. These lies left unchecked and unrefuted can cause us to lose focus of the crop we're growing. These lies are designed to keep us bound in shame. They are designed to cause us to doubt our relationship with God. They are designed to cause us to doubt the goodness, the love, the power, or the presence of our God. We deal with these little pests by plucking them off of our plants when we take our thoughts captive to God's Truth, and maintain our focus on the One who is the complete embodiment of truth.

As we tend to our growing peace, we want to remember to take one day at a time. Any farmer can tell you that there are so many things that can go wrong over the course of the life of his crops that one could drive himself crazy with the "what if''s." Matthew 6:34 is a great reminder of this. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things." If a farmer focuses only on today's chores, todays pests, today's weather, and todays problems he'll experience less stress, less turmoil, and less strife in his life and enjoy more peace.

Sowing peace is hard work and we want to dress appropriately to have endurance. This means we must take off old clothes of pride, corruption, deceitfulness, lust, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, malice, lying, and evil speaking--all of which rob us of peace in our lives and in our relationships. And, through the Holy Spirit we put on the adequate clothing of truth, righteousness, humility, and love. This will enable us to cultivate peace through sacrificial giving, the speaking of truth in a loving ways, kindness, and tenderhearted compassion. And, when discord seeps back into our field and we can fertilize it with repentance and truth spoken lovingly and then shower it with grace and forgiveness.

As I am ending this post, I dawns on me that it really isn't about looking for peace in a world that cannot give it. It is about staying connected to the God of peace who sanctifies me completely so that my spirit, soul, and body are preserved blameless at the coming of Jesus. Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you." As I wait for His glorious return, the cry of my heart has evolved into, "Let me be a conduit of Your peace, Lord, to a world that sorely needs you."

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Breaking Down Walls of Hostility

Hatred first reared its ugly head after the fall, resulting in the murder of Cain. It drove Joseph's brothers to plot his death and then settle for selling him into slavery. It caused the Egyptians to slaughter babies born to Jews. It drove Haman to plot the destruction of Israelites being held captive in Persia. It showed its ugliness in Israel's treatment of Gentiles, the Gentiles’ treatment of Jews, and the treatment of both groups toward the people who were the products of mixed marriages between the two. It was displayed when women were mistreated in marriages and discarded by arrogant husbands who used them and tossed them out like evening garbage. It was displayed in the way the Old Testament society viewed women as second-class citizens. It has shown itself when fathers who desired sons mourned the births of precious daughters. It shows its ugly head in the legal systems that fail to serve justice on behalf of victims. 

Hatred is still growing as we see everyday on the news. Hatred in the form of prejudice has roots running deep in human hearts. Prejudice may be birthed when fear becomes so intolerable that the power of hatred feels safer than the fear it covers. Prejudice may be born in insecure hearts where anxiety is calmed by refocusing it on something external to be angry with. It may be birthed by longing deeply for acceptance, notoriety, supremacy, prestige, and significance when one mistakenly believes hatred can ensure one can get or keep the things longed for. It can be born in pride-filled hearts as people seek to elevates themselves over others. It can be born in hearts deeply wounded by victimization, providing a destructive hot protection that kills the chance of forming loving relationships. It can be born in a heart given over to evil when the conscience has become seared by one hateful choice after another. 

Hatred often takes root when distorted thinking rules hearts. When we exaggerate or minimize the importance of events, experiences, and mistakes, we breed hate. When we employ catastrophic thinking and see only the worst possible outcomes, we may not see valuable life lessons that need to be learned, we may not sow seeds of love that God is asking us to sow, or we may not take the opportunities to be a part of needed changes. Fear caused by catastrophic thinking can breed self-protective, but destructive biases. Making broad sweeping generalizations can spawn  hate-filled viewpoints. For example those abused by a man could begin to hate all men. Those ridiculed by a teacher can begin to hate all teachers. Those were assaulted by someone of another race can begin to despise all people from that race. 

I've been praying the last couple of weeks about what to write in light of what has been happening since George Floyd was killed. There aren't words to describe the grief and the shock of watching the video and the powerful pictures of protestors who laid down on the ground with hands behind their backs for the amount of time George laid there only to have the unity built by the outrage hijacked by extremists instigating riots, murder, looting, and all sorts of lawlessness. We have all had experiences that bias our way of thinking and yet we know Jesus came to abolish hostility. Ephesians 2:14-21 says, For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of the commandments express in ordinances that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in who the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a Holy Temple in the Lord.

Jesus, a Jew born in the Middle East, broke through all sorts of prejudicial barriers when He came to this earth. He turned over the tables of money changers who were taking advantage of the poor who wanted to offer sacrifices in the temple. He broke through the biases towards marginalized people as He rubbed shoulders with the blind, the crippled, the deaf, the mute, the lepers, the demon possessed, and with a woman who was unclean because of constant bleeding. He broke through the biases in the religious culture by allowing all sorts of people to sit under his teaching--boisterous fishermen vying for positions, to the educated doctor, to the tax collectors. to Lydia the business woman, to the homemakers, to children who never had direct access to God before, and even to the prostitutes that longed for real love. He even gave the gospel to a mixed-raced Samaritan woman and then entrusted her to share it with her town. He was a bridge builder, not a division maker. He bridged the hostility between Jews and the Gentiles (all other races and people groups). 

We would do well to remember prejudice of any kind is driven by the Enemy who wants to convince people that Jesus is something He isn’t and to divide the people to whom He is reaching out. If we don't examine our hearts and acknowledge and change our biases, we are prone to be used by the Enemy to distort the image of God and His love and to stir up the very hostility that Jesus came to destroy. This is serious as God is not a biased God. He makes it clear in his Word that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, and neither male or female and we would do well to pattern our attitudes and our actions on this truth.   
One of the things I believe we all have in common is the desire for perfect justice. We hear it in the cries of the protestors. We hear it in the cries of those who lost loved ones to senseless violence. We hear it in the cries of those victimized by sexual predators. We hear it in the cries of those who have been forever impacted by drunk drivers. We hear it in the cries of those who sit through court and see victimizers get off due to technicalities. We hear it in the cries of spouses going through ugly divorces whose judges discounted truth to grant custody to unhealthy, unstable, or dangerous parents. 

But, I believe our desire for perfect justice is often skewed by our own biases. Years ago I asked a pastor why he thought God was so specific in the law. He explained the law was partly put in place to restrain our imperfect, fleshly sense of justice. He pointed out if a person lost their eye in a fight, he wants to destroy someone's whole face. If a person lost a family member, they want to take the killer as well as his family out. Cities of Refuge were set up to protect those who were responsible for accidental killings because of reality. At first I wasn't sure I agreed with the pastor about man's tendency. But, soon after that conversation I was victimized and found myself struggling with strong, graphic thoughts of revenge that scared me. I realized my own sense of justice was warped by both my pain and my fear. I came to realize the way for me to regain internal peace was to speak truth when I could and then to lay my desire for my warped justice at the feet of the Perfect Judge and trust Him to work His will in it. It was a process, but it was freeing and only possible because I knew Jesus death was God's perfect justice carried out on my behalf.      

Right now I just want to cling to the One who came to destroy hostility and who desires His church to be comprised of all nations and of all races--a church bursting at its seems with people reconciled to God, unified in Jesus Christ, being led by the Holy Spirit worshiping together and proclaiming the gospel. We would be wise to examine ourselves for residual biases and Pharisaical judgments that we might possess as individuals and as churches. These things not only destroy peace and divide the body, they keep others from knowing our God. I want to be sure in my passion, that I don't take on the very hatred that God detests. His nature is love and I want my heart and life to reflect Him and His humility. I am thankful His Son was not given to hateful biases, but in an act of supreme humility lay down His life, breaking the barriers of hostility between us and God and leveled the field between all people. 

Monday, June 1, 2020

It Is Personal

Every so often I have thoughts that persistently run through my mind. Sometimes the thoughts are "ANT's," which are "automatic negative thoughts." I take these thoughts captive to the truth of God's word. At other times the persistent thoughts is God prompting me to remember something important. Lately the thought running through my mind is, "It's personal." I am not talking about the cultural climate right now, in which people take every thing personally and get offended and defensive. I am talking about God who knows each of us in a personal way. For someone who once believed God was distant and angry, I find it comforting to be reminded the relationship I have with God is personal.

As I have meditated on this thought, I have realized it has always been personal. It began in the Garden with Adam and Eve. God fashioned  Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed life into his lungs. He knew Adam well enough to know it wasn't good for him to be alone and took one of his ribs and fashioned him a wife. And, when Adam and Eve chose to sin and hide from God, He sought them, calling, "Where are you?" In the face of their disobedience He promised them a Savior and the clothes he fashioned from animal skins foretold of their future Savior's death. This tells us that in the face of sin our God is a God who is in the business of seeking us out.

Then there was Moses who tended his father-in-law's flock. When he was near Mount Horeb the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a burning bush. Moses became curious as he realized the bush wasn't being consumed. God seeing Moses' curiosity called out to him from the burning bush, "Moses, Moses." He told Moses He had seen His people's oppression and heard their cries and called him to lead His people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Moses resisted, but God persisted, telling him to tell His people that He, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has sent Moses to lead them home. God went before them continually guiding and instructing Moses on how to lead a nation that had been traumatized by years of slavery, mistreatment, and infanticide. He is a personal God who continually takes a personal interest in the suffering of His people.    

Then there was Samuel who ministered to the Lord before a priest named Eli. Eli's sons behavior in the temple was vile and unrestrained and uncorrected by Eli. One night Eli was lying down in his room and Samuel in his when Samuel heard, "Samuel, Samuel!" God had been silent for so long Samuel assumed the voice to be Eli's and ran to see what he needed. Eli said it wasn't him. This happened two more times and on the third time Eli told him if it happened again, to say to the Lord, "Speak Lord, for Your servant hears." And on that fourth time, when Samuel was about to go to sleep he heard his name, "Samuel, Samuel!" Samuel did as Eli instructed him and God spoke prophesy over him and over Eli's household. I love that in the midst of such a sinful environment God called a young man by name not one time but four times, choosing Him to be His prophet. His calling of Samuel tells us that even in the midst of sin in the household of God, our God is still a personal God.

Skipping over a bunch of other stories we find land in the new testament on the story of Zacchaeus--a man with whom most of us are familiar. He was a short Jewish man who lived in Jericho and collected taxes for the Roman government, most likely charging people extra taxes to pad his own pockets. Because of his stature and his job he was not popular among his fellow Jews. Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus and was curious about him when he heard that he was coming. As Jesus arrived Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a tree so he could get a glimpse of him. When Jesus was passing beneath Zacchaeus, He paused, looked up, and then called him by name, "Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus!" Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus' home and ate and fellowshipped with him. Our Jesus not only knew Zacchaeus' name, He knew where he was perched and made himself at home with him. The despised Zacchaeus found the love he craved in Jesus. And, Zacchaeus was changed because it was personal.    
Lastly, let's look at a man named Saul who was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. As he was traveling to Damascus to arrest Christians, a light shone around him and he fell prostrate to the ground, hearing God's voice, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" They conversed and the nonbelieving Saul became the believing Paul who authored much of the New Testament. I love this passage. As a young believer, I took criticism of my faith so personally, but after I became familiar with this story, I realized when someone is criticizing or mocking my faith, it isn't me they are criticizing, it is Jesus and His calling upon their lifes. In the face of the mocking, I can smile, let go of defensiveness and pray the person would realize faith isn't a philosophy to be reckoned with, but an invitation to a deeply personal relationship with God who radically loves them.

I want to remember when I feel unsettled that the same God who called, Adam and Eve, Moses, Samuel, Zacchaeus, and Paul by name is the same God who has called me. It is comforting to know that in the face of failure, He calls my name. It is comforting to know that the God who called Moses and gave his life significance has called me as well. It is comforting to know that at the times I don't recognize His voice, He calls to me again and again. It is comforting that He knows my proximity and all that concerns me, and calls out my name to spend time with me. It is comforting to know when I think I am doing His will and am heading in the wrong, He will call me by name and redirect my path. I want to remember this relationship I have with God--it is personal. 


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!